When you're trying to get on the supplement train, browsing the vitamin aisle at your local drugstore can feel pretty daunting. And the same goes for shopping for them online. It actually might feel even more overwhelming, especially when you consider the huge inventory that's on Amazon. There are so many brands out there, from the bigger, well-known ones to the more personalized offerings to the indie, newer lines.
So how can you choose the right brand or product? It's a serious choice—that's for sure. You're going to be consuming them, putting them in your body. You don't want to spend money on something that doesn't work at all or will make you feel sick.
Well, first and foremost, it's recommended that you consult your doctor or healthcare provider before you start any vitamin or supplement regimen. They know your medical history and should be able to provide the correct guidance specific to your personal health.
And once you're ready to shop, you should try to do as much research as possible. Registered dietitian Stephanie Carter, MS, RDN, founder of Carter Hall Lifestyle, cautions that some supplements might be full of fillers, additives, or other unhealthy ingredients that could be harmful to your health. Yeah, that sounds scary.
To help navigate the shopping experience, we had some experts give their tips on what to look for and recommendations from their favorite brands.
How to Do Your Research
If you don't have a science background or aren't used to decoding nutrition labels, all of this can seem a bit confusing at first. But knowledge is power, so there are a couple of steps you can take to ensure you find a supplement that's trusted and tested.
Pay Attention to Certifications
"Look for supplements that have been validated by research as well as ones that have third-party certifications," recommends registered dietitian Maya Feller, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Brooklyn-based Maya Feller Nutrition. She shares these certifications below but says that brands may not carry all of them:
The easiest step would be to visit the brand's website and read it carefully. Next, you can review journals or studies. "Many times, it is easy to put the supplement's name into your browser and look for PubMed studies about that supplement and try to find human or at least animal studies that confirm the claims on that product," says Steven Gundry, MD, author, medical director at the International Heart and Lung Institute, and founder of Gundry MD.
Avoid Unnecessary Ingredients
"In my opinion, I would suggest avoiding supplements with unnecessary and unacceptable ingredients such as heavy metals, trans and hydrogenated fats, and artificial colors to name a few," Feller says. "In addition, for those who are concerned about allergens, they should rely on companies that are transparent with their labeling practices."
Make Sure It's the Correct Dosage
Gundry advises making sure that the supplement is in an amount that has clinical utility. This is when consulting with a healthcare professional comes in handy. "In other words, if the human trial used 1000 mg a day to achieve a measurable result and the supplement in your hand has 50 mg, you will not get the results you expect or you will have to take 20 a day!" he says. "Many times I find, based on blood work I draw every three months, exactly this phenomenon. Supplements do not make expensive urine if you take the correct, clinically validated amount. The doses I recommend are based on real patient results."
"Buyer beware. If the supplement is a lot cheaper than others' prices, most likely there is a valid reason," Gundry says. "Likely, the dose is a lot less or the product isn't really what it claims. Look for third-party testing and a GMP facility."
"[The brand] has created a premium supplement line that is hypoallergenic without the use of eggs, gluten, peanuts, artificial colors, flavors and sweeteners, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils," Feller says. "In addition, they have an open plant policy, meaning customers and prospects can visit the manufacturing plant. They also carry the third-party GMP registration"
Both Feller and Carter recommend Thorne because of its emphasis on clinical research. Carter adds that the brand's facilities are both cGMP certified and NSF Certified for Sport. "[Thorne] works from the ideal that health exists on a continuum," Feller explains. "They rigorously test their supplements and pride themselves on sourcing and using ingredients that have been rigorously tested and obtaining third-party certifications. They have a strong commitment to never include BPA, BHT, and BHA in any of their formulations along with a longer list of unacceptable ingredients."
The brand also offers at-home testing for customers and works with big names in the medical community, like the Mayo Clinic.
"Nature Made makes their supplements according to science and research," says registered dietitian nutritionist Shana Spence, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of The Nutrition Tea. "Also, if you're like me and hate the idea of swallowing pills, they offer chewable gummies which are much more tolerable and taste great." The brand is USP verified.
Life Extension is one of Gundry's recommendations. Like many on this list, the brand has a science- and research-based approach to its formulations. The brand has GMP registration, and you can request a Certificate of Analysis for each product to ensure you're getting a quality product.
Feller says NOW has had a long and trusted history in the natural-products space since 1968. "They have carefully created a high-quality supplement line that does not contain parabens, nanoparticle ingredients, harmful levels of pesticides, artificial colors and flavors, or microbial pathogens," she explains. "Their website has an extensive list of unacceptable ingredients where the consumer can read and learn more. Additionally, NOW has a number of third-party certifications, including GMP, Underwriters Laboratories, and Informed Sport."
Gundry, of course, had to offer his own supplement line, Gundry MD. "I personally formulate all the ingredients in each product based on my ongoing six-day-a-week patient practice and their resultant blood work," he says. "Additionally, I make decisions based on human research called in vivo, not what happens in a test tube or petri dish called in vitro. Finally, all products are made in a GMP-accredited facility and then third-party tested to make sure that what I say is in the product actually is in there! When choosing supplement manufacturers, simply apply these same rules, and you will be fine."
Another favorite of Gundry's, Jarrow Formulas is a Los Angeles–based supplement brand that's been around since 1977. It is both NSF-GMP certified and USDA Organic certified. The company also supports and funds scientific research and symposiums.
Carter recommends personalized vitamin brand Baze. The company ships an at-home blood test to customers, and a registered dietitian curates a supplement plan based on your nutrient levels. Every three months, customers are encouraged to measure their nutrient levels and complete a questionnaire to reassess dosage. The blood test costs $199, but you get a refund if your blood levels are already optimal.
"The ingredients in Baze supplements are tested according to the FDA's Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) for potency, efficacy, and safety and are sourced from the best quality providers in the US," she says.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.