Dietary supplements include vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, sports supplements, amino acids, or combination of the above ingredients. Vitamins and supplements are growing in popularity among Americans, with approximately 68% of the population taking some form of dietary supplement.

User confidence of safety, effectiveness, and quality is also very high, at 84%. A large percentage of Americans also believe that supplements are a smart choice for a healthy lifestyle.

Taking Your Supplements with a Grain of Salt

However, it is important to understand that vitamins and supplements do not need to be proven safe and effective before marketing. Unlike medications, clinical trials are not required for dietary supplements.

Another misconception is that if x amount is necessary for optimal health, then three times that amount must be even better. This is not necessarily the case. Protein is a great example of a macronutrient that is necessary in ranges from 0.8-2.0 grams/kg body weight/day, but protein in excess of this does not contribute to increasing lean body mass.

How to Evaluate Dietary Supplements

How can consumers be protected? Here are 4 main guidelines you can keep in mind when looking at supplements. And of course, please remember to always check with your healthcare provider.

Be educated.

The supplement industry makes billions of dollars selling supplements that are not based on sound science. Supplement manufacturers can use industry funded research, or preliminary lab studies to support their claims.

Use reliable sources to evaluate supplements.

Websites including the office of dietary supplements and the Australia Sports Commission are good starting points.

Related: you might not need to be taking supplements for positive health changes – here are 5 spices that have great health benefits too!

Look for 3rd party certification.

These are independent agencies that test vitamins and supplements to ensure quality. Although they do not evaluate effectiveness, 3rd party certification can help ensure that what is listed on the label is actually contained in the supplement.

Note that each agency is different and such testing is essentially a snapshot in time of a particular product and is no guarantee that future batches will be the same. Some common 3rd party agencies include NSF International, United States Pharmacopeia (USP), the Banned Substance Control Group, ConsumerLab and Informed-Choice.

Watch out for proprietary blends.

Proprietary blends allow manufacturers to list ingredients without listing exact amounts for each ingredients. This is especially concerning for supplements containing stimulants caffeine, synephrine, or yohimbine.

Post written by FFC registered dietitian contributor.