Verywell Fit's Dietary Supplement Methodology

How we choose dietary supplements to recommend on Verywell Fit

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.

Part of our mission at Verywell is to provide you with thorough and unbiased information on products that can improve your health and well-being.

We work hard to be transparent about why we recommend certain dietary supplements and offer you easy-to-comprehend information to help you select the best product for your needs.

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 Fit and why
  3. Product attributes that matter to us and the evidence that backs up these attribute choices
Tips for Using Supplements Safely VW Health Original Photo

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What Are Dietary Supplements?

Dietary supplements are products intended to supplement your diet, including vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals, amino acids, and enzymes. 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. 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, and manufacturer data to provide you with clear information about the supplements we recommend on Verywell.

Benefits of Dietary Supplements

Supplements May:

  • Improve overall health by preventing nutrition gaps
  • Replete levels of a diagnosed deficiency
  • Manage specific health conditions.

For example, calcium and vitamin D help keep bones strong, vitamin C may boost immune function, and B vitamins may improve energy.

Dietary supplements may be particularly helpful for those who cannot consume or absorb certain nutrients well or those who choose not to consume particular foods.

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 iron and 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 your 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 to experience interactions.

Overdosing

Taking larger than recommended amounts—or overdosing on—dietary supplements can be 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 K, A, D, and E.

Excessive amounts of vitamins, or toxicity, can cause more harm than good to the body. 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.

Imbalances

Supplements can replete and prevent nutrient gaps, but they can also create imbalances as well. Nutrients work together in the body, but too much of certain nutrients can cause imbalances in others.

For example, calcium and magnesium work in opposition to each other, so more of one nutrient will likely increase your needs for the other.

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. Vitamin C may reduce the effectiveness of some types of chemotherapy.

Supplements should not be used as a substitute for prescription medications recommended by your healthcare provider. Always speak with your healthcare provider about all of the supplements and medications you are taking or plan to take.

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Other Considerations With Dietary Supplements

Nutritional needs vary by gender, age, weight, and many other factors. For this reason, most supplements are formulated and dosed for specific ages. Always speak with your health care provider to ensure that you select the appropriate supplement and dose for your needs. Many supplements have not been tested for safety in pregnant women, children, and nursing mothers.

Note that “natural” doesn’t always mean safe. Many people assume that because herbal supplements are made from plants and common natural substances, they are completely harmless. This is untrue.

Herbal supplements can interfere with medications or may negatively affect the liver. Many multivitamins contain 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.

What Supplements Does Verywell 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 Support Supplements That Are:

  • Evidence-based and rooted in science
  • Clinically tested and approved for use in humans

For these reasons, we choose to stand behind multivitamin and mineral supplements, individual vitamin and mineral supplements, omega-3s, and probiotics.

We cautiously recommend herbal supplements and take care to look at the evidence behind each herbal ingredient. Other nutritional supplements, such as protein powder and collagen powder, meet our standards. 

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

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.

It’s best to have double-blind, placebo-controlled studies with large sample sizes that do not have conflicts of interest and are not self-funded or paid for by any individual with a financial interest in the supplement.

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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 dietitian, chooses which topics to cover on Verywell. 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.

Product Attributes We Value

At Verywell, we value certain 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 attribute and the evidence to support the attribute.

It’s important to note that supplements 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
  • Allergy-Friendly
  • Free of Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives
  • Free of (Most) Artificial Sweeteners
  • Third-Party Tested & Certified

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 closest to their natural state that are not genetically modified. While the evidence is inconclusive, choosing non-GMO products may be better for your health and the environment.

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, it is thought to be safer to avoid pesticides, fertilizers, and chemicals by purchasing organic products, including supplements. For this reason, we recommend choosing supplements made with organic, whole-food ingredients when possible.

Organics may seem like a more expensive version of the same item, but the term is closely regulated. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), “Organic meat, poultry, eggs and dairy products come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones. Organic food is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation.”

Note that the term “organic” can be used in various ways on a product label. Products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients, except for added water and salt, and may not contain sulfites as a preservative. The remaining 5% of ingredients may be non-organic.

Products with a label claim stating “made with organic ingredients” need to contain at least 70% organic ingredients, except for water and salt. Supplements made with this label may not use sulfites either.

Many organic supplements are made using whole food rather than synthetic ingredients (although organic is not synonymous with “whole food”). Whole food supplements are generally preferable, as they’re made from ingredients concentrated and derived from real foods, whereas synthetic nutrients are made from artificial ingredients. Some evidence shows that supplements derived from whole food ingredients are absorbed more efficiently than synthetic nutrients.

Note that some supplements are labeled “organic,” whereas some are “USDA Organic.” These terms are not the same. The “USDA Organic” certification assures that the ingredients are grown and processed according to federal guidelines. Some of these guidelines require that the soil used to grow the produce has been free of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides for three years before harvest.

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Allergy-Friendly

Supplements may contain one or more of the top eight allergens (milk, egg, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, soybeans). These ingredients may be a source of a certain nutrient or a filler. Because these allergens may be dangerous for those with food allergies, we recommend supplements that are free of common allergens.

Many supplement companies manufacture multiple products in one facility, which can result in cross-contamination of certain allergens. If allergies are a concern for you, it’s best to contact the supplement’s manufacturer with any questions or choose a certified allergen-free product.

Free of Artificial Colors, Flavors, and Preservatives

We recommend dietary supplements that are free of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives. 

Artificial colors can make supplements look more appealing and uniform in color, but artificial food coloring and dyes may be harmful, especially for children.

In general, artificial colors are not a necessary ingredient in supplements, and therefore we recommend supplements that do not use artificial colors or dyes. As an alternative, many companies use natural colors and flavorings derived from fruits and vegetables. 

Flavoring can help to improve the taste of unpalatable supplements. For example, adding a natural lemon flavoring to an omega-3 capsule makes it have a less fishy aftertaste, and natural fruit flavors make gummy vitamins more enjoyable for children and adults. Natural flavors and artificial flavors may taste the same; however, they are made differently.

  • Natural flavorings are processed in a lab but come from natural sources such as fruit, fruit juice, or spices.
  • Artificial flavors are synthesized in a lab, are usually cheaper to source and manufacture, and are potentially dangerous.

We recommend products that use naturally derived ingredients, including flavoring, when possible. 

Preservatives help to extend the shelf life of supplements so that they don’t break down prematurely. They also help to keep mold, fungi, yeast, and bacteria away. Natural preservatives, such as vitamins C and E, are preferable choices over potentially dangerous artificial preservatives.

It’s important to note that some supplements, such as particular probiotics, require refrigeration as a form of preservation. Always read your supplement label to find out how to store them.

Most non-refrigerated supplements are best stored in a cool, dry place in the original container with the lid tightly closed.

Free of (Most) Artificial Sweeteners

Many artificial sweeteners are considered GRAS—or generally recognized as safe—by the FDA, but we prefer to avoid the majority of them.

The FDA approves of sugar alcohols, a class of sweeteners that includes sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol, and maltitol. The sweetness of sugar alcohols ranges from 25% to 100% as sweet as sugar. These are typically used to sweeten sugar-free candy but are also frequently used in supplements. We don't generally recommend using products that contain these ingredients, as sugar alcohols can cause digestive problems such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea, especially when consumed in large amounts.

The FDA also approves of saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and a few other high-intensity sweeteners, but we recommend avoiding these products due to potential health concerns. Some artificial sweeteners may impair the body’s natural ability to process sugar, causing increased sugar and carbohydrate cravings, which can lead to overeating and weight gain, as well as hormone disruption.

Based on current evidence, we recommend products sweetened with stevia and monk fruit (luo han guo). Both of these naturally-derived sweeteners are considered GRAS, but they are less sweet than other high-intensity sweeteners.

Note that these products are approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar, so they should be used in moderation. We continue to monitor the evidence on the safety of sweeteners and will modify our recommendations accordingly if necessary.

Third-Party Tested & Certified

Because nutrition supplements are not regulated or broadly tested in the United States, selecting a third-party tested product is a great way to ensure that you’re choosing a safe, effective 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, LabDoor, and ConsumerLab. When possible, we choose products that have been third-party tested and certified. That said, if a supplement is not third-party tested or certified, it doesn’t automatically mean that it is not a good product.

Testing simply helps to avoid the uncertainty that a product is safe and effective.

The FDA does oversee label claims pertaining to health claims (e.g. “may reduce risk of heart disease”) and nutrient content (e.g. “low in sodium”) for dietary supplements. Still, some supplements may have designs or art on their label that are not backed by evidence-based science or third-party testing companies.

We also pay attention to third-party certifications based on the third-party testing that is conducted. Companies like NSF or USP offer seals of approval, verification marks, or certifications that provide consumers with assurance that the product is safe and effective.

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.

Specifically for sports performance-related supplements, we look for the Informed Choice, Informed Sport, or NSF International’s Certified for Sport certifications to ensure the products we recommend are safe and clean.

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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.
  • 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.
Eliza Savage, MS, RD, CDN
Senior Editor
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Eliza Savage, MS, RD is Senior Editor at Verywell Fit, a registered dietitian, and a published author. 

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Rachel Berman, RD
General Manager, Verywell
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Rachel Berman, RD is General Manager at Verywell, a registered dietitian, published author, and national nutrition spokesperson.

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Article Sources
Verywell Fit 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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