functional nutrition

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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

(602) 422-9800

Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist
Sibo Doctor Approved
certified gastrointestinal nutritionist

Confused by All the Dietary Supplement Choices? Here Are the 6 Things I Look For.

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registered dietitian weight loss tips

Table of Contents

Over the past few weeks we’ve been talking all about supplements. Here’s a quick recap:

✔ Most everyone has nutritional deficiencies and could benefit from supplements. Read more about this here.

✔ Just picking the latest supplement you’ve read an article about isn’t the best approach because we all have different needs. Read more about this here.
✔ There are some great tests out there that can clarify which supplements you need. Read more about the tests I use in my practice here.

This week I’m going to share my secrets for finding good supplements. It’s not as simple as, “I’ve heard of this brand.” There is a lot to consider. So let’s dive in!

Overall Supplement Quality

The most important consideration when it comes to supplement choice is quality. There are a lot of bad supplements out there — even at the vitamin stores. There are a few things that I consider when I look at supplement quality:


Any time you are ingesting a substance, safety should be the first concern. I look for things like:

❓ Has this nutrient been studied? I use evidence-based, functional practices with my patients. So I want to know not only if the nutrient I’m considering has been studied, but also who paid for the study. Did the company selling the supplement benefit from good study results?

❓ Are there any potential interactions with other supplements or medications that I need to consider with my patient?

❓ Will this supplement benefit the overall health of my patient while it solves the problem we’re focused on?


Not all supplements are created equal. For example, there are more brands making vitamin C than I could even count. But not all of these brands contain a useful, high-quality form of the vitamin.

When you’re looking at supplement quality, it’s important to dig deeper than the advertising materials for the brand. Sometimes it takes a phone call to the company to double check their quality standards.

Independent Testing

If a supplement is tested by the company selling it, the tests will be skewed. Independent testing is a critical factor in science. If a supplement company tests their own products, they will likely tip the scales in their favor. This isn’t always nefarious. Sometimes it’s done unintentionally. But there’s no way a company can be impartial about its own product. So independent testing is key.

Manufacturing Standards

The way nutrients are handled makes a big difference in their effectiveness. Some nutrients lose their efficacy if they are heated too much. Some suffer with exposure to oxygen. Companies need to be aware of all of these intricacies with each nutrient they produce.

And it’s important that they avoid cross-contamination as well, especially from allergens like gluten and soy.

How to Choose a Supplement Brand

As you’ve probably already figured out, brand choice is a big deal in my practice. If you go to the vitamin store, you’ll see countless brands on the shelves. And they are not all the same.

Making supplements is a costly process, so this is probably not the time to look for the cheapest option. Again, it’s important to research the brands that make the supplements you are considering.

In my practice, I use the best brands I can find for my clients. And many of these are only made available through practitioners — you can’t find them at the store.

I make it easy on my patients though. I work through a company called Fullscript. They distribute most of my favorite supplement brands and products. I put each patient’s supplement recommendations into Fullscript. And then my patients log into their account and know they are purchasing exactly the right products — without having to run all over town or pay shipping to a bunch of different companies. Fullscript even offers a discounted rate!

Natural vs. Synthetic

Did you know that most supplements don’t offer natural nutrients? You may not realize that you may be taking synthetics. This doesn’t mean you’re being scammed. But often creating synthetic nutrients is cheaper and easier than growing the real thing.

Natural nutrients are grown and dried before they are added to your supplement. Synthetic nutrients are created in an industrial process.

Take vitamin C for example. Most vitamin C supplements contain a form of the vitamin called ascorbic acid. But this is a synthetic nutrient. If you want real vitamin C, you need a product that is whole-food sourced. And those are pretty hard to find.

Our bodies don’t always respond the same way to synthetic nutrients as they do to natural ones. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take synthetic nutrients. For certain people with food allergies or sensitivities, whole-food supplements can be really problematic. So synthetics are much better for them. The bottom line is that it’s important to check with your practitioner to make sure that you are using the type of supplements that are best for YOU.

Capsule, Liquid, of Powder

Most people have a preference for the form they like to take their supplements and medications. And in some cases, it doesn’t make a big difference which one you choose.

But for some supplements it matters… a lot. Different nutrients need to be absorbed in different parts of the digestive tract. Some nutrients need to be broken down in the stomach. While others need to make it past that high acidic environment so they can be utilized in the small intestine.

The form the nutrient comes in makes a difference in where it gets absorbed. So it’s important to know where your body needs the nutrient and make sure you choose a form that will get it there. That’s another reason why I highly recommend working with a practitioner when you are designing your supplement plan.

Single or Multi Dose Supplements

Do you take your vitamin D all in one shot or do you take it a few times during the day? Sometimes it’s just a matter of personal choice.

But often when it comes to supplements, timing and frequency matters. Some nutrients are easily stored by your body so you can take your whole day’s worth at once. But other nutrients are carried through the detoxification pathways quickly. So if you take more than you need in the moment, your body eliminates the rest and it washes away in your urine.

Certain nutrients need to be given in small doses because your body isn’t able to absorb too much all at once. And there are some nutrients that need to be combined in order for your body to be able to absorb them properly.

Supplement Dosage

Deciding how much of a supplement to take can be tricky. We don’t all have the same needs.

If you read the label on your supplement bottle, it will tell you the RDA (recommended daily allowance). But these are just rough averages. Most people need either more or less of the nutrient than the bottle recommends.

And for many of my patients we’ll do what’s called a therapeutic dose of a supplement for a limited amount of time. And this dosage is usually far in excess of what’s recommended on the bottle.

A therapeutic dose can make a much bigger impact on your symptoms because it fills in your nutrient gaps quickly. But, be careful! Therapeutic doses should only be taken when recommended by a qualified practitioner.

Extra Ingredients

It’s not unusual for a supplement to contain ingredients other than just the main nutrient. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Added ingredients (excipients) are sometimes necessary to preserve the efficacy, appearance, or shelf-life of a nutrient.

But not all added ingredients are helpful or necessary. Companies will add sweeteners and artificial colors to their supplements.  It’s important to be aware of additives and fillers used in your supplements. Sometimes these fillers can be problematic, especially for people with allergies and sensitivities. 

I’m always careful to source “clean” supplements that contain a minimum of added ingredients. I know that many of my patients can react badly to common fillers and additives, including soy, gluten, and artificial colors.

The Form Matters

As if picking supplements wasn’t complicated enough… You also need to pay attention to which form of the nutrient you are getting.

Take magnesium for example. Many people are deficient in this mineral. Some take it to improve constipation or get rid of nighttime leg cramps. 

But the form of magnesium you choose matters. And there are a lot of different types out there: magnesium citrate, magnesium oxide, magnesium chloride, magnesium lactate, and on and on…

And your body reacts slightly differently to each one. Some types are absorbed more easily than others. But you don’t always want the highest absorption. If you’re taking magnesium for constipation, you actually don’t want it to be absorbed as well. 

So it’s important to know:

  1. Why you are taking this nutrient
  2. Which form of the nutrient is the most effective for your concern

The Bottom Line

Our bodies are complex organisms with specific needs. Supplementation can be a fantastic tool to help bring your body into balance, treat symptoms, and address the root cause of why you feel bad.

But it’s not as simple as following the latest Instagram trend and running to the vitamin store to pick up what looks good.

I recommend that anyone who is considering adding supplements to their wellness plan work with a qualified practitioner. 

Supplements are a complicated business. And you can accidentally throw your body further out of balance if you:

? Take the wrong supplement

? Take too much or too little of the right supplement

? Don’t pay attention to added ingredients and how the supplement is produced

? Unintentionally consume allergens or troublesome additives

I’m not trying to scare anyone. Supplements are safe and effective when used properly. So talk to your practitioner about which supplements are right for your health plan. And if you’re looking for a practitioner with expertise in supplementation, feel free to set up a consultation call with me. I’d be happy to talk with you about your concerns and how making diet, lifestyle, and supplementation changes can help you feel better.

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