7 ingredients in supplements to avoid
Sadly the majority of supplements sold on the high street and online - including popular high street and supermarket brands - contain nasty additives including Titanium Dioxide (a carcinogen), Magnesium Stearate, Talc, and even boiled pigs trotters, animal intestines and lambs tongues. Most people don't know how to check the label, what to look out for, or which ingredients contain hidden nasty additives. Sadly many people are also duped by fake expert reviews and false advertising, so the ASA has started to take action against supplement companies found guilty of using misleading and fake claims.
Our nutritionists explain the supplement ingredients to avoid and how to check your label for nasty additives. You may also want to learn how to spot fake reviews for supplements and how to verify if a product is safe to use for a professional athlete.
How to find the ingredients in supplements
When checking the label of supplements for nasty ingredients, here are the simple do's and don'ts.
DON'T just look at the nutritional table – this doesn’t show everything your supplements contain, including the nasty additives. A nutritional table only shows ingredients that provide nutritional benefit - that's why nasty additives aren't included in it.
DO look at the 'Ingredients'. The 'Ingredients' will be next to the nutritional table, often in smaller print written in a paragraph. By law, the ingredients list must contain all the ingredients in your supplements, including nasty additives.
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Why supplements contain additives
Nasty additives are added to cheap and expensive supplements for a number of reasons:
- Bulking and binding agents to stick tablets together, such as Gelatin.
- Coating agents to give tablets a particular texture or make them smooth, such as Magnesium Stearate.
- Colouring agents used to make supplements a particular colour, such as Titanium Dioxide, a group 2B carcinogen.
- Flow agents included to prevent ingredients sticking to machinery or clumping together in the manufacturing process, such as Talcum Powder and Magnesium Stearate.
Not all additives are unnecessary or nasty. Some can help with the absorption of nutrients, or can be added to ensure each capsule in a pack of 30 or 60 capsules contains exactly the right amount of nutrients for your daily dosage.
Not all plant-based additives are good. Plant-based sweeteners, just like sugar which is also plant-based, are just as bad for you as artificial sweeteners. All sweeteners should be avoided because they can lead to a higher risk of diabetes, as confirmed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Learn more in 'Exposed: Plant-sweeteners and type 2 diabetes'.
This picture (above) is a good example of why you should always #CheckTheLabel. It is a picture of the back of one of the world's leading meal replacement shakes. It clearly states it doesn't contain 'artificial sweeteners'. However, in looking at the ingredients, you can see it contains sweeteners in the form of stevia, one of the many sweeteners the WHO have now warned against because they create higher risk for serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
Also beware of supplements calling themselves '100% natural' - this does not mean they're healthy or good for you. Most collagen gels and powders, for example, claim they're natural but will contain sweeteners that you should avoid, as well as collagen from boiled animal skin, ligaments and bones.
The majority of supplements on the high street and online contain unnecessary additives, some with potentially nasty side effects, and here are 7 to watch out for.
7 ingredients to avoid in vitamins and supplements
Collagen supplements are either made from boiled skin and bones of cows, or the skin, bones and scales of fish ('marine collagen'). There is no such thing as a vegan collagen supplement – the only vegan collagen is what your body makes itself.
And while you may think taking a collagen supplement is good for your skin, if you’re looking for healthier, glowing skin, it’s more effective to increase your body’s collagen production through your diet or natural supplements that stimulate the amino acids required to produce collagen. Skin Saviour® is a plant-based pre and probiotic designed to do just this.
If you don't like the idea of boiled cow bones or fish in your collagen supplements, learn more in 'The truth about collagen'.
2. Magnesium Stearate
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals required by our body, so it is rightly one of the most popular supplements for people to take.
However Magnesium Stearate is not one of them - in fact quite the opposite. There are over 12 different forms of Magnesium, some of which you want to avoid and none more so than Magnesium Stearate, yet it is one the most common nasty additives in supplements.
Animal-based magnesium stearate is made from pork fat, beef fat or chicken fat, and is used as a coating on tablets or filler in capsules. Vegetable based magnesium stearate, which is less common and used for the same purpose, is predominantly made from palm oil, one of the biggest drivers of global deforestation. Neither is good for you - too much magnesium stearate has a laxative effect, irritating the mucosal lining of the bowel and causing diarrhoea.
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3. Titanium Dioxide
It is the biggest no-no for your health, yet some estimates suggest Titanium Dioxide is contained in more than a third of supplements sold online and on the high street, including high end and premium supermarkets.
Classified as a carcinogen by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and International Agency for Research on Cancer, Titanium Dioxide has been used for decades by some of the biggest brands to colour their supplements white. Not only is it now rightly deemed unsafe, it also stimulates free radicals which can cause damage to your body’s cells.
Learn more about Titanium Dioxide from EFSA and be sure to avoid Titanium Dioxide in any of your supplements.
4. Sheep's Wool
Known as ‘Lanolin’, boiled sheep’s wool is the most common source of Vitamin D in supplements.
Next time you’re purchasing Vitamin D, think twice before purchasing a non-vegan Vitamin D. Vegan sources of Vitamin D are derived from algae, they're generally better absorbed, better for you and the planet.
Glucosamine is naturally found in our cartilage, the tissue that cushions our joints, and it is commonly taken as a supplement for joint pain and inflammation. Where does it come from? Glucosamine is harvested from the shells of shellfish or synthetically made in a lab.
If you’re looking for a more effective plant-based alternative supplement for your joints, opt for a Curcumin & Turmeric supplement. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, but standard turmeric supplements contain little or no curcumin.
If your turmeric supplement doesn’t show curcumin on the back label as a separate line or value, it means there is little or no curcumin in it - this why people find standard turmeric supplements ineffective.
6. Talcum powder
Yup, you read it right. Talc, like the powder parents used to dust on their children after a bath, is a very common additive in supplements.
Talcum powder has been the subject of more class-action lawsuits in the US than any other ingredient given its potential nasty side effects. Yet talc has been used for years in cheap and expensive supplements to prevent other ingredients from sticking together and damaging machinery when they’re made. Always #checkthelabel.
Where does gelatin come from? Boiled trotters, tendons, cartilage, hooves, skin and bones from pigs, cattle and fish.
Why is Gelatin used? Gelatin is a very common additive in frosted breakfast cereals, sweets and jelly, and in supplements to bind ingredients together to form tablets. As a simple rule, anything used to make a tablet stick together isn't going to be good for you.
As a rule of thumb, tablets contain a lot of unnecessary additives and are always best to steer clear of. If possible opt for capsules, however you still need to check the ingredients, because many capsules can contain nasty or unnecessary additives such as Magnesium Stearate, Lanolin, Glucosamine and much more.
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