Whether you’re searching for a B-complex vitamin or a hemp protein powder, when it comes to plant-based supplements, there are a ton of options on store shelves. And to make it more confusing, lots of companies have recently launched their own lines — Goop, The Beauty Chef and even Lo Bosworth, to name a few.
So how do you find a top-shelf product among the not-so-trustworthy ones? “There are so many supplements out in the market and they aren’t closely regulated by the FDA,” says Nora Minno, RD, a Daily Burn 365 trainer and registered dietician based in New York City. Her advice: “Consult a dietitian or physician and make sure that the supplements you are taking contain safe quantities of active ingredients and are actually proven to drive results.”
Aside from checking with your MD before popping any new pills, a few helpful hints will steer you toward a healthful brand. Read on for expert advice about how to decode supplement labels and find the right fit for you.
4 Steps to Find the Best Plant-Based Supplements
1. First things first: Check for certifications.
Just because a brand claims to be “all natural” or “organic” doesn’t guarantee its ingredients are up to snuff. Your best bet, says Jaclyn Jacobsen, on-staff nutritionist at the Vitamin Shoppe, is to look for a certification from a governing body. For instance, a bottle with a “USDA Organic” label lets you know that at least 95 percent of the product’s ingredients are truly organic
Another good one to keep an eye out for: a stamp of approval from the Non-GMO Project, meaning the supplement contains zero genetically modified ingredients. Those missing this label could contain pesticides.
Manufacturers need to renew these certifications annually, says Jacobsen. So if you see these stamps on your brand, take comfort in knowing it’s been evaluated recently.
2. Look for words that show quality.
Along with symbols showing a product is USDA organic and non-GMO, certain terms denote a quality supplement. Jacobsen recommends searching for raw and sprouted. Raw foods have not been chemically altered, processed or cooked which preserves their enzymes and nutrients, Jacobsen explains. Sprouted seeds also contain more nutrients, like fiber, and are low glycemic.
If you’re looking for a plant-based protein powder specifically, Minno advises making sure the product contains branched chain amino acids, like leucine, isoleucine and valine, which promote lean muscle mass.
Finally, check the ingredients label. Make sure that all the food sources included in the supplement are, in fact, from plants and real foods.
3. Steer clear of the artificial stuff.
On the other hand, there are the phrases that suggest a product’s contents aren’t so high quality. And they could potentially even harm your health. Jacobsen recommends passing on anything flavored with artificial ingredients or containing artificial colors. You can also step away from “all natural” products, as that could mean it’s still grown with pesticides. Also, extracts, such as Stevia extract versus whole Stevia leaf as a sweetener, means you should pass, because extracts go through chemical processing, Jacobsen explains. Step away from those with carrageenan, too. This ingredient promotes inflammation and the National Organics Standards Board removed it from the allowable organic foods list in 2016.
You’ll also want to avoid hydrogenated oils, because they can increase inflammation and could possibly increase your LDL cholesterol, says Jacobsen. Others to steer clear of: magnesium stearate (which may prevent nutrient absorption and impair your immune system) and titanium dioxide (it can also affect your immunity).
4. Pick your pills or powder.
Tons of high-quality supplements flood the market, but we rounded up a few of our favorites. As always, check with your doc before trying any new vitamin or supplement.
Many of the products in the new Plnt line at the Vitamin Shoppe are non-GMO, like the protein powder, as well as organic and free of artificial stabilizers or preservatives, like the milk thistle capsules.
With USDA Organic and Non-GMO stamps of approval, the Garden of Life line is another top choice. They recently released a sport line, featuring plant-based protein powders. It also includes energy and focus pre-workout mix and a recovery formula for after exercise. Also, because they contain no ingredients banned by sports leagues, they’re also a top brand among athletes.
New Chapter has a line of supplements — from multivitamins to blends meant for specific purposes, like boosting your immune system, bumping up bone health or nixing stress — that are certified USDA Organic and non-GMO.
Already have some vitamins, protein or other supplements in your cabinet and not sure whether they pass the test? If you can’t tell from the label, one way to check: Head to the USDA site and search the brand name. The site boasts a comprehensive database. So if your current brand doesn’t seem up to par, you can easily search for a new one.
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