When we were kids, we loved gummy vitamins. Multi-vitamin? Vitamin C? The ingredient purpose was unsurprisingly lost on us; we were too busy biting into the breakfast candy bliss that was our daily dose. These days, although we’d like to say that a gummy supplement (or two) a day is acceptable, it’s the ingredients that we stress, not the taste. Even the healthiest among us want to protect ourselves with specific nutrients in the form of supplements and vitamins. Still, we were shocked to find, while on our quest to dose our way to a more energized and less vitamin deficient life, that some -- if not most -- are filled with harmful ingredients. If you’re filling a nutritional gap from a specific diet, focused on immune strength, or looking to improve gut health, there are hundreds of supplements on the market that promise to do it for you. So, before you navigate the vitamin aisle, we’ve outlined some red flags to look out for, so you can find the right supplement with none of the wrong extras.
Additives, Fillers and Colors
Fillers are used to bind and preserve the ingredients in vitamins. There are natural options, but they are hard to find, especially in mass-produced pills. Other unnecessary additives are used for coloring and taste.
Hydrogenated oils are used to extend the shelf life of supplements (and pretty much all processed foods), and are high in trans fats linked to heart disease. Specifically, hydrogenated soybean oil is one of the most widely spread fillers used by vitamin manufacturers - it shows up in the majority of supplements found on shelves today.
Artificial flavors and colors have also historically been used in vitamins. Though many companies have moved away from using artificial food dyes, artificial colors FD&C Blue No. 2 and FD&C Red No. 40, both of which are potential neurotoxins, have been found in widely distributed multivitamins.
Titanium dioxide is another coloring agent used in supplements known for its white pigment. According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, the ingredient is a possible carcinogen, and other sources have noted its links to immune system disruption.
Magnesium stearate is an additive used in medication capsules as a “flow agent,” preventing the individual ingredients in a capsule from sticking to each other and the machine that creates them. Over time, magnesium stearate can actually block the absorption of nutrients in the body and is linked to the development of a harmful "biofilm" in the intestines that may cause digestive problems.
To keep it totally safe, opt for vitamins that promise none of these additives, fillers, artificial colors or flavors.
Lead, mercury, and PCB (an environmental pollutant and carcinogen) are industrial compounds found in polluted waters, and can be absorbed by the fish used for fish oil supplements. Fish oil is a popular ingredient for its omega-3s, which are important for brain function, complexion and hair health.
Instead of traditional fish oil pills, choose a plant-based source of omega-3s or make sure any fish oil supplements are molecularly distilled and 3rd-party tested.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
GMOs are crops grown with genetic engineering and toxic chemicals, and the resulting pesticide residues are known to be harmful to human health. Studies have linked GMOs to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility. Unfortunately, GMO-based ingredients often make their way onto the vitamin shelf.
Check any supplements you’re taking for specific ingredients from GMO corn. Unless a product is certified organic or non-GMO, it is likely that any maltodextrin or vitamin c (ascorbic acid) in the supplement are derived from GMO corn, and it should be avoided.
Looking for a safe, powerful multivitamin that offers everything your body needs and nothing it doesn’t? We recommend Ritual for their vegan-friendly, non-GMO supplements for the whole family. We love that Ritual vitamins are Made Traceable™, meaning Ritual only works with suppliers committed to their high supply chain standards, providing the nutrients in their best forms.