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5 Things You Need to Know When Shopping for Supplements

If the last vitamin you took was in the shape of a Flintstones character, walking into a vitamin shop or just perusing the supplement aisle at your drugstore can be pretty overwhelming. Before you just grab any multivitamin and call it a day, there are things you should consider. Arm yourself with the right know-how from these experts.

Many people are walking around with nutrition deficiencies without even knowing it. You may feel lethargic, hungry, or moody for countless other reasons, but those same symptoms could be caused by a vitamin or mineral deficiency that can easy be resolved. If you want to feel better, but aren’t sure where to start when it comes to shopping for supplements, these pro tips should help.

Taking time to read the nutritional label is worth it.

All supplements and multivitamins are not created equal. Avoid any product that has synthetic materials, artificial additives, and chemical colorings listed on the nutritional label. Jeremy Wolf, N.D., lead wellness advisor at LuckyVitamin, says the best way to determine that the supplement you’re buying is safe is to check for specific seals of approval on the product. Make sure the label says one of the following: Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP), Non-Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), Certified Organic, or Certified B Corporations. While those are positive things to look out for, there are also ingredients to beware of such as magnesium stearate, titanium oxide, artificial colorings, carrageenan, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, and other fillers. (Read more: The Truth About Nutrition Supplements.) Although there hasn’t been conclusive data stating the health risks with these ingredients, Wolf says it’s better safe than sorry, so avoid or limit your intake.

Active lifestyles call for specific supplements.

Vitamins are particularly important if you’re active, as you want to replenish any nutrients you lose from a workout, hike, or run. Jacqui Justice, M.S., NY Health and Wellness nutrition director, says that for athletes, it’s important to focus on recovery and muscle building. “Protein supplements such as whey protein are great as a recovery meal because they help repair muscle tissue and stimulate muscle protein synthesis,” says Justice. She recommends a vitamin C supplement to prevent muscle soreness and produce collagen—an important structure of muscle cells, tendons, and ligaments. Vitamin D is also important for proper muscle recovery and muscle building.

The types of supplements you take will also vary depending on the type of physical activity you do. “If you are a runner, you may choose a protein powder with more carbohydrates to help fuel your run,” says Wolf. On the other hand, if you are lifting weights and looking to see muscle growth, he says you’ll want a protein powder with more calories and a higher protein content. If you’re unsure what kind of vitamin or supplement is right for you, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor and the specialist in your local store.

Women have specific dietary needs.

Women shopping for supplements should focus on finding a good multivitamin, iron supplement (for replenishing stores lost from menstruation or from anemia), probiotics (to keep the GI tract in check), a bone health vitamin with calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D, and a B-complex vitamin, says Justice. If you’re pregnant, then you’ll also want to take folic acid (which has been shown to help reduce neural tube defects in a fetus) as well as a prenatal supplement with B vitamins.

Different diets need different supplements.

If you’re vegan or paleo, your body may be deficient in certain vitamins that you need to make up for via supplements. For those who follow plant-based diets, vitamin B12 (methylcobalamin) is a good choice as it is most commonly found in fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and milk. However, Wolf says vitamin D is important for everyone because many people are deficient and it can be difficult to absorb through food alone. (Think you might be low on the sunshine vitamin? Watch for these 8 symptoms of vitamin D deficiency.)

Your body could reject a supplement.

Although most supplements are considered safe to use, there is always some risk in taking any foreign over-the-counter product. There are certain symptoms to look out for that indicate a supplement isn’t agreeing with you. (For example: Surprising Side Effects of 5 Popular Supplements.) “Your skin might break out into a rash, you could get GI symptoms, nausea, and headaches,” says Justice. However, those are typically harmless, albeit annoying, side effects. It’s only considered a real health risk if the supplement clashes with a medication you are already taking or is making you sick, or if you’re allergic to an ingredient (e.g., shellfish in fish oil). Consult your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms.

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