Contact us

You Know the Basics, But Are You Ready For Understanding Supplements 201?

Think you have mastered the vitamins and sport supplements? Think again. NSF experts share their advice on what you really need to know.

If you talk to anyone serious about their health regimen, they’re bound to add vitamins and dietary supplements to the conversation about exercise and healthy eating habits. Some may tell you that vitamins like D and B12, minerals like calcium and iron, herbs, probiotics, and energy drinks can help you get adequate amounts of essential nutrients or take your exercise workout routine up a notch. But buyer beware because there are certain precautions to take when it comes to safely adding vitamins and supplements to your daily health and workout routines.

“The dietary supplement industry is an ever-evolving, ever-growing industry,” says John Travis, Technical Leader for NSF’s Certified for Sport® program. “Dietary supplements are regulated more like food in many regions. In the United States, this means products are expected to be safe, and it is up to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to prove they are unsafe to remove them from the market.”

Travis adds, “Unlike prescription drugs, dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA before they are sold. As a result, some unscrupulous brands may take shortcuts when making supplements, trying to skirt regulations in exchange for poor quality, lower manufacturing costs and greater profits. Products made by these brands may contain contaminants, like heavy metals, pesticides, toxic chemicals or pathogenic bacteria, which may pose risks for pregnancy. And some dishonest supplement brands may not even have the amount or number of vitamins listed on their labels.”

To help you navigate the supplement shopping aisle safely, our NSF experts offer their front-line experience with tips for choosing supplements and vitamins.

Tips From NSF Experts for Choosing Supplements and Vitamins

  • Be Wise With Workout Supplements

    As with other dietary supplements, workout supplements are regulated like food and presumed to be safe unless found otherwise. It’s a good idea to research their effects and ingredients and consult with your physician, says Travis. Here’s what he suggests:

    Do your homework. Check out what the FDA has to say on the website of the supplement company you’re considering.

    Learn about the risks. Some supplements may contain banned substances that could potentially disqualify student-athletes from competing.

    Use only certified products. To help ensure that the workout supplement you’re consuming doesn’t contain banned substances, check to see if it has been certified by independent testing organizations, such as NSF.

    Take these tips. You can find more tips on taking sports supplements safely here.

  • Beware of Banned Substances

    “We’ve all seen vitamins and other supplements that claim to improve your athletic performance,” says Travis. “Any supplement promising to make you stronger or make you have greater endurance miraculously is probably one you should consider avoiding. Be especially aware of supplements that promise dramatic gains in your ability over a short period. This may signal that the supplement you are using contains drug-like ingredients that could harm your long-term health.” Find more information on banned substances here.
  • Vitamin "See"

    Pregnant and wondering what vitamins are safer? Beware — not all over-the-counter vitamins and supplements are created equal, and it’s best to learn more about how they might affect you and your baby. In addition, marketers may target women trying to get pregnant with false claims that dietary supplements can treat, cure or prevent infertility and other reproductive health conditions. Make sure you read the label and look for any information in the vitamin package to learn about the possible risks for pregnant or breastfeeding women. Our experts share tips for finding the proper prenatal vitamins and protecting yourself and your baby; find more information here.
  • No Kidding Around

    Many parents have learned firsthand the importance of reading vitamin labels for their children, especially if they’re prone to allergies. If you’re unsure about a product, call the company to find out if it contains an allergen. Find more information on children’s vitamins here.

Ultimately, the best strategy for any vitamin or supplement is to determine if it has been tested. Knowing the product has been tested for contaminants, such as toxins or heavy metals, provides you with a safer choice. Seek out supplements that have received independent certification from accredited third-party organizations, like NSF. This is the easiest and surest way to know that what is on the label is in the bottle and to help you protect yourself against taking supplements with potentially harmful or undeclared ingredients.

In addition, NSF’s Certified for Sport program meets the growing demands of athletes, coaches and all those concerned about banned substances in dietary supplements and functional foods. We verify that these products do not contain unsafe levels of contaminants, prohibited substances or masking agents and that what is on the label matches what is in the product. The Certified for Sport certification program helps provide consumers with safer, more informed choices.

Sign Up for Tips for Better Living

Stay up to date with what matters most to you and your family.


How NSF Can Help You

Get in touch to find out how we can help you and your business thrive.

What’s New with NSF