Verywell Family's Dietary Supplement Methodology

How we choose dietary supplements to recommend on Verywell Family

The content of this methodology is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any question you may have regarding dietary supplements.

At Verywell Family, we work hard to give you detailed and unbiased information on products that can help improve your family’s health and well-being. This means that we do thorough research to make sure we're recommending the best products for you and your family at every stage.

Dietary supplements are not one-size-fits all. Needs vary by individual and also based on many factors, including age, life stage, diet, and existing medical conditions and medications. Our goal is to offer you easy-to-comprehend information that helps you decide if a product is right for you or your family. Then, armed with that information, you can select the best product for you and your family's needs.

In order to navigate the dietary supplement industry, our team of registered dietitians carefully reviews the research, interviews experts with decades of experience in the field of dietary supplement research, and utilizes unbiased resources that are rooted in science, including the National Institute of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements. Beyond this, our methodology is medically reviewed by a doctor to ensure its accuracy.

To explain our methodology of selecting nutrition supplements, we will cover the following:

  1. The benefits and risks of dietary supplements
  2. Which supplements we choose to feature (and what we skip) on Verywell Family and why
  3. Product attributes that matter to us and the evidence that backs up these attribute choices

What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements contain ingredients intended to supplement your diet, including vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes, among others. Other popular dietary supplements include omega-3s, probiotics, and protein powders.

Supplement Facts Label

Products sold as dietary supplements come in packaging with a Supplement Facts label that lists the ingredients, amount per serving, and a suggested serving size. This label is typically found on the outer packaging or the back of the supplement container.

This information helps you know what the key active ingredients in the supplement are, as well as other ingredients such as flavors, fillers, and binders. Use this label as a guide to know what is—and isn’t—in your supplement.

Supplement labels are required by law to list what vitamins and minerals they contain and in what quantity. It is important to note that supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is up to the manufacturer to comply with labeling guidelines. Just because a label says the supplement contains certain ingredients in certain quantities, there is no guarantee that it is accurate. 

If you take a closer look at the label, you may notice a section called “Other ingredients,” which commonly includes fillers and excipients. These ingredients often help to optimize the manufacturing process or bind a supplement together. Not all fillers and excipients are harmful, but they also aren’t always necessary in a product. It’s best to take a closer look to know exactly what is in your supplement.

Our editors, writers, and fact checkers use Supplements Facts labels, product packaging, manufacturer data, research, and third party testing to provide you with clear information about the supplements we recommend on Verywell Family.

Nutritional supplements

Verywell / Anastasiia Tretiak

Are Dietary Supplements Beneficial?

Supplements May:

  • In certain circumstances, improve overall health by preventing nutrition gaps.
  • Replete levels of a diagnosed deficiency.
  • Potentially help manage specific symptoms or health conditions.

Supplements Are Not:

  • Appropriate for everyone.
  • Intended to be used without the monitoring of a health professional.
  • Intended to treat, prevent, or cure health conditions or disease states.

It is best to get our nutrients from the foods we eat, and supplementation is, in most cases, only useful when nutrient needs cannot be met through your diet or a life stage or medical condition necessitates increased nutritional needs. There are no recommendations for the general population regarding supplements because each person’s needs and risk of deficiency is different.

We recommend that you have your nutrient needs evaluated by a healthcare provider. They will base recommendations on your life stage (such as pregnancy) and by assessing your deficiencies in a blood panel to ensure you don't exceed the recommended amount.

Supplements can be useful in specific instances. For example, people who menstruate, especially athletes, may experience iron deficiency and therefore benefit from iron supplementation.

Dietary supplements may be particularly helpful for those who cannot consume or absorb certain nutrients well, have higher needs because of a condition or disease state, or are following specific restrictive diets.

For example, people who have had surgery on their ileum (portion of the small intestine) may not absorb vitamin B12 efficiently and may require supplementation. Similarly, vegans or vegetarians who choose not to eat meat may benefit from supplemental vitamin B12.

Risks of Dietary Supplements

While dietary supplements can provide various benefits, they also pose potential risks due to the lack of product regulation and improper usage.

Dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States, meaning the FDA does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed. A supplement manufacturer only has to notify the FDA if a product contains a completely new ingredient, and even then the FDA will only review, not approve, the product. Even if supplements are third-party tested, that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily safe and effective for all.

Always speak with a healthcare provider to check whether a supplement is appropriate for your needs and health concerns. It is possible to take too much, to create a nutrient imbalance from improper usage, and for supplements to interact with other supplements or prescribed medications.

Supplement Excess & Toxicity

In a few cases, taking larger than recommended amounts of dietary supplements is dangerous. While many people think that you “pee out” excess amounts of vitamins, there are certain vitamins that are stored in the body, including fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K.

While most side effects of excess vitamins or minerals are mild and easily treatable, excessive amounts of a few types of vitamins or minerals can reach the point of toxicity, where there are potentially dangerous side effects. For example, excessive iron can cause nausea and vomiting, as well as liver damage.

It’s also important to consider that many foods we consume are fortified with vitamins and minerals, and these nutrients contribute to our overall daily intake. For example:

  • Breakfast cereals are typically fortified with vitamin A, vitamin D, and B vitamins.
  • Milk is often fortified with vitamins A and D.
  • Protein bars and beverages are considered dietary supplements, and they contain a variety of nutrients.

If you consume fortified foods regularly, consider how these products contribute to your overall nutrition needs.

Interactions

Supplements may interact with medications or result in dangerous side effects. For example, vitamin K interferes with a popular blood thinner called Warfarin, reducing the drug's ability to prevent blood clots.

While supplements may sound like “natural” alternatives to medications, they still have the potential to change the chemical activities within your body. Prescription medications have been thoroughly researched and vetted, and prescribing medical providers are well-versed in their uses and side effects, while supplements do not undergo any such scrutiny. 

Supplements should not be used as a substitute for prescription medications recommended by a healthcare provider. Even if the manufacturer website makes big promises, this does not mean these claims are supported by research. Always speak with a healthcare provider about all of the supplements and medications you are taking or plan to take.

Other Considerations with Dietary Supplements

Nutritional needs vary by gender, age, weight, and many other factors. Always speak with a healthcare provider to ensure that you select the appropriate supplement and dose for your needs. 

Note that “natural” doesn’t always mean safe. Many people assume that because herbal supplements are made from plants, they are completely harmless. Similarly, many people assume that a supplement that includes many different ingredients must be beneficial because the more nutrients the better, right? In fact, herbal supplements and multi-ingredient supplements can pose serious risks (depending on many factors) including contributing to liver damage and potentially interfering with medications.

Many supplements contain a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and sometimes also include herbal ingredients, so it’s always important to check the supplement facts label and inspect the ingredient list closely to ensure each ingredient is appropriate for you.

Dietary Supplements for Different Life Stages

Nutritional needs differ by life stage—pregnant people, infants, children, and nursing parents have different risks of deficiency and considerations. Sometimes this means that supplements are essential for wellbeing. For example, folic acid supplementation during pregnancy is crucial to help prevent birth defects in children, and breastfed infants need supplemental Vitamin D to prevent rickets. In other cases, supplements can put a population at greater risk. For example, it is not recommended that healthy children who eat a varied diet take multivitamin supplements because they are at a greater risk of getting too much vitamins A and C as well as certain minerals.

Additionally, many supplements have not been tested for safety in these different populations. When we discuss supplements geared towards a specific population, we will always evaluate the research on that supplement for that population. If there is no research on the use of that supplement in the population in question or there is significant demonstrated risk, we will not recommend the supplement.

What Supplements Does Verywell Family Recommend?

Supplements can be tricky territory, so we do the tough work of weeding through multiple products and brands to present you with a variety of high-quality options based on your values, budget, and preferences. 

Before we get to the stage of choosing specific products, we make choices about what we ethically support and what we don’t.

We take a food-first approach—we recommend meeting nutritional needs through foods as close to their original state as possible rather than through supplements. When needs cannot be met through the diet, we may recommend, depending on the scenario and demonstrated needs: individual vitamin and mineral supplements, multivitamins, certain probiotic strains, electrolyte solutions, and macronutrient supplements. As the research is sparse on concentrated herbal supplements, we recommend herbal teas rather than herbal supplement tinctures and pills and will only make recommendations on herbal supplements if and when the research supports it.

Within each of these product categories, we are extremely judicious about what brands and products we support based on various factors (see the attributes explained below), but most importantly, the ingredients used. 

This list will evolve as more research comes to the forefront and new products come to market. Our team will continuously question the safety, validity, and effectiveness of supplements and modify our recommendations accordingly.

We Do Not Support:

  • Supplements with claims that are not supported by clinical research.
  • Supplements that are potentially dangerous (beyond the typical risks associated with nutritional supplements).
  • Weight loss supplements, including diet pills.
  • Exercise and sports performance products that may be harmful to athletes.
  • Supplements with sexual enhancement claims.

It’s important to note that many potentially dangerous and poor quality supplements claim to be supported by research. Any company can conduct research strategically to uphold their claims, so it is critical to look at the study design, size, and conflict of interest statement to analyze whether the study is valid.

The type of research that makes the strongest case for supplement effectiveness consists of randomized controlled studies. This means that people are randomly assigned to take a specific amount of a supplement or to be part of the control group (not taking the supplement), and researchers look at the differences between the two groups after a certain amount of time. These studies provide strong evidence when they include large groups of people in their trials  and are not conducted by or  paid for by any individual or organization with a financial interest in the supplement. Moving forward, in order to recommend a supplement, we ensure that there is substantial good-quality research to demonstrate its efficacy.

How Do We Choose Supplements to Recommend?

Have you ever walked down the supplement aisle and stared blankly at a shelf, overwhelmed by the amount of choices for a simple multivitamin tablet or vitamin C capsule? We certainly have. We aim to do the research for you so you can easily choose what works best for you.

Our team of experienced editors, including an on-staff dietitians, chooses which topics to cover on Verywell Family. This team collaborates with expert writers to choose the best products in each category, such as vitamin D, elderberry, and vitamin C. We aim to provide you with simple, evidence-based information to help you make an educated buying decision.

Research-Backed Efficacy & Safety

At Verywell Family, our number one priority is to recommend products that have substantial, good quality research to back their efficacy and safety. We know how confusing it can be to navigate the supplement world. Manufacturers fill their websites with vague promises of what their supplements will do for your body, like helping you perform at your peak or supporting emotional wellness, weight management, or digestive health. These claims can make us excited to try supplements to feel better and look better, but often these claims are not backed by research.

We carefully comb through the research and don’t recommend supplements with only one study to back them up; we ensure there are a multitude of good quality studies to support a recommendation. If there is research that makes us skeptical about safety, we will not recommend that product.

Independent Third-Party Tested & Certified

Because nutrition supplements are not regulated or broadly tested in the United States, selecting a third-party tested product is important to ensure that you’re choosing a safe product. Third-party testing is a control process where an independent lab assesses a product to see if it meets certain criteria and standards.

Popular third-party organizations include NSF, USP, and ConsumerLab. We prioritize products that have been third-party tested and certified by one of these three reliable organizations, and we will always highlight whether or not each product is third party tested and certified. These certifications can be expensive, so, if a supplement is not third-party tested or certified, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is not a good product. However, these certifications are the only way to feel confident that the labeling of the products is accurate. Please note that these third parties do not test for product efficacy, so, just because a product is third party verified, it does not mean that it is effective.  

Third-party testing simply helps ensure that a product contains what it says it contains and is not contaminated with other ingredients. The FDA does regulate what types of claims supplement labels can make. Supplements cannot claim to serve as a treatment, prevention, or cure for any disease. However, they can make three types of claims:

Health claims

  • What they are: Health claims describe the relationship between a supplement ingredient and reduced risk of a disease or health condition
  • Example: Adequate iron helps reduce the risk of anemia.

Nutrient content claims

  • What they are: Nutrient content claims state the percentage of a dietary ingredient that a supplement contains. 
  • Examples: One capsule contains 100% of the recommended daily value of Vitamin D or One capsule contains twice the calcium as in one glass of milk. 

Structure/function claims

  • What they are: Structure/function claims can describe how consumption of a nutrient or dietary ingredient that may affect the body’s normal structure or function, works to support that normal structure or function, contributes to general well-being, and/or may provide a benefit related to a disease caused by nutrient-deficiency.
  • Examples: Iron is needed to transport oxygen in the body or Fiber supports digestion and satiety.

While medicines sold in the USA must be approved by the FDA and are required to meet USP standards, dietary supplements do not require approval before they are marketed. USP standards are voluntary. Unlike medications, which have to be proven safe before they can be marketed, supplements are allowed to be marketed without any proof that they are safe or that they actually provide the benefits they claim to provide. Supplements can only be restricted or removed from the marketplace if the FDA proves that they are unsafe, which often means it is after harm has already been done.

Other Product Attributes We Value

We value some other attributes that we find to be associated with the highest quality products. These attributes are listed below with an explanation of why we value each and the evidence to support it.

It’s important to note that these additional attributes are not relevant to many vitamin and mineral supplements but may be more relevant to macronutrient supplements, such as protein powders. The products we select do not need to have all of these attributes, but these are values we find important when deciding between various products available on the market.

  • Non-GMO
  • Organic
  • Minimally Sweetened

Beyond these standards, it’s important to note that:

  • There are no supplements that are beneficial for everyone.
  • The most important use of supplements is to manage an existing deficiency.
  • Supplements will not solve any physical or mental health condition aside from deficiencies. Deficiencies are diagnosed by your medical provider via laboratory tests.

Always be sure to read all of the ingredients in your supplement and their quantities, and research the purpose, action, and risks of each ingredient, including potential interactions with other supplements or prescription medications. Like with food, it is usually the case that the shorter and simpler the supplement’s ingredient list, the better.

Non-GMO

When possible, we select products that use non-GMO ingredients. While there is a variety of evidence that argues whether GMO products are safe or dangerous, we generally choose to recommend products that are not genetically modified.

We also look for the Non-GMO Project Verified certification on product packaging, which means that a product is compliant with the Non-GMO Project’s strict guidelines.

When we think about genetically modified crops, such as soybeans and corn, another concern is glyphosate, an ingredient in herbicides such as Round-Up that are used to control weeds. This herbicide has been detected in a variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, and cereals. Glyphosate is legal in the US, but some governments around the world prohibit it since glyphosate has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.

For this reason, it may be beneficial to limit unnecessary exposure to glyphosate. Non-GMO does not mean free of glyphosate; however, it may limit the amount you’re exposed to. If you’re concerned about glyphosate, there is a Glyphosate Residue Free Certification that you can look for.

Organic

While some studies show that minimal amounts of chemical residue from non-organic foods are not dangerous to your health, organic products may be safer and healthier than conventionally grown products. For this reason, we work to include and highlight organic options when they are available and relevant.

Minimally Sweetened

Many people are concerned about consuming too much added sugar and choose to replace sugar with low calorie sweeteners and sugar alcohols. However, both artificial low calorie sweeteners and natural low calorie sweeteners may have the opposite effect than intended and affect blood sugar control, and the gut microbiome. Sugar alcohols can cause digestive problems such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea, especially when consumed in large amounts. For these reasons, we emphasize supplements with minimal added sweeteners.

Additional Considerations When Choosing Supplements

When choosing which supplements to recommend, we are conscious of the quality-focused attributes listed above and consider individual preferences, such as form, price, and availability. We also care about the conditions in which the supplements are made.

  • Form: Supplements come in many forms, including tablets, capsules, liquid, powder, lozenges, spray, and gummies. We aim to offer the highest quality supplements in a variety of forms that suit your preferences, as we understand that some individuals prefer gummies over capsules and vice versa.
  • Price: Price is not always reflective of quality. A more expensive supplement doesn’t guarantee a better product. It’s also prudent to be skeptical of very inexpensive supplements. We aim to offer the best quality supplements at a variety of prices to fit most budgets. Some supplements are inherently more expensive to make than others, and the price is mostly dependent on ingredients, volume produced, and certifications obtained.
  • Availability: We select over the counter nutritional supplements that are widely available. While some supplements are only available by prescription, subscription, or mail order, we include supplements that are in stock at local or online retailers for your convenience.
  • Quality Control: While there is a lack of quality control on supplement ingredients, safety, and effectiveness, the FDA does have regulations for the supplement manufacturing process. Referred to as GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) or cGMP (Current Good Manufacturing Practices), these regulations set the requirements for supplement companies to ensure that the supplement is made in a safe, clean laboratory that’s registered with the FDA. We recommend products that are made in GMP facilities.


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Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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