The coronavirus pandemic has led to a huge spike in the popularity of dietary supplements. It has been found that up to 50% of us have consumed more vitamin-based supplements since the beginning of 2020
1, as we are all trying to take better care of ourselves and improve our immunity.
Simultaneously, there is also the ‘natural boom’, from personal care, to cosmetics, to organic food as we take more care of what surrounds ourselves and our families and avoid any nasty and unnecessary chemicals that could damage us and our planet.
Vitamin sales have seen growth of 24% in the last year
2, so of course, the connection between the higher demand for supplementing ourselves to remain at peak health during troublesome times and the desire to find natural and healthy ingredients has led to the capitalisation of this by vitamin companies.
This should be a good thing, as supplements focus more on obtaining natural sources for their vitamins and minerals. However, unfortunately, not all companies and producers are so transparent, with the consumers’ needs in mind. This means that whilst ‘natural’ may be in the name, products may not truly be all natural as they are suggested and marketed to be.
Reading between the lines – always look at the wording
Some vitamins also contain a combination of natural and synthetic ingredients, but will heavily promote the few natural ingredients while masking the artificial additions. For example, a supplement may promote specific plant-based ingredients that they claim makes them unique. They might include blackcurrants as a source of vitamin C, but mask the fact that they are using other synthetic vitamins, such as zinc gluconate alongside it to form a full multi-vitamin.
Sometimes, supplements will contain some natural ingredients, like particular vitamins or minerals, but also use fillers, binders and preservatives that are not natural. This could include, for example, magnesium stearate which acts as an anti-caking agent that helps blend other ingredients together and makes the manufacturing process easier. Whilst it is generally recognised as safe to consume, research has shown that it may impact white blood cells and could limit the body’s ability to absorb other nutrients
If you are looking at different products, and they contain the word ‘natural’ in their name, you wouldn’t be foolish to assume that the product is as it says. However, it is important to remember that unless it states ‘100% natural’, there are likely some unnecessary synthetic ingredients included. It only requires one ingredient to be from an unnatural source for a product not to be all-natural, and being derived from natural ingredients with the addition of artificial ingredients does not make it natural either.
Why do companies use synthetics?
One of the most common reasons for companies using synthetic vitamins is the reduced cost, along with the quick and easy manufacturing process which can all be done within a laboratory environment. You can find out more here.
How can you tell if ingredients are natural?
If you are reading a supplement label and it does not state which specific food a vitamin has been sourced from, then that suggests that it has been synthetically produced and has not come from a natural source. This is because in the UK and Europe, dietary supplements are classed as a food product, so the label must include the actual food source. For example, if vitamin C, or ascorbic acid, has been sourced from amla, then the label will say so. Really, if you think about it, why wouldn’t a company want to boast about the natural ingredients that they have prepared for your benefit?
Another way of simplifying reading the ingredients list is looking out for certain types of words. For one, many synthetic vitamins and minerals found in dietary supplements are in their salt forms. These include acetate, hydrochloride, and nitrate. These words may not necessarily be obvious to you when reading a product label, but if you watch out for words ending in “ate” or “ide”, or beginning with “dl”, you will know that those ingredients are synthetic, even if there are natural ingredients also included. For example, thiamine (vitamin B1) in its synthetic form may be listed as thiamine mononitrate or thiamine hydrochloride.
Getting more from your supplement label
Another interesting way to check whether the vitamins in your dietary supplement are natural is to check the nutritional values table. What you will often see with a natural supplement is that there may be a higher amount (for example, 288mg of guava, lemon and basil making up the vitamin B complex) but a smaller amount of a particular vitamin with the % NRV alongside it, such as 4.32mg of pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), or 108% of your daily NRV. This is because in natural food sources, there are many other essential components, such as fatty acids and lipids, that help the vitamins work at their best in your body.
However, it’s not all about the vitamins and minerals in your supplement. You should always check the label for other ingredients that may not be immediately obvious to you. You will always find the nutritional table on the packaging where you’ll be able to locate magnesium, zinc, etc., but any ingredients that have no nutritional value (you might be surprised to find there are often a lot!) will only be shown in list format underneath. Here is where you might find some unwanted and unnecessary ingredients.
Why does it matter if nutrients are natural or synthetic?
Though you may think natural and synthetic vitamins are effectively the same, there can be huge differences in the way that a synthetic vitamin is absorbed and interacts with our body in comparison to a natural food source. Click here to find out more.
Seeing so many complex words on supplement labels can be overwhelming and confusing, but we don’t think it should be! We believe in clean labelling and properly informing consumers on what they are putting inside their bodies, without any misleading information that might present a mostly artificial supplement as a natural supplement.
That’s why all of our ingredients come from natural sources from earth to sea, and are clearly explained directly from the food source to the nutrition it provides.