How To Find Safe and Effective Dietary Supplements Without Getting Ripped Off

Today, you’ll find out how to find safe and effective supplements that are approved by independent testing for good labeling and offer you the best value.

First, a bit about the supplement industry.

It’s huge!  How big?

From: Statistica, Inc.

In 2000, it was a 17.2 billion dollar industry in the US and in 2008, over 25 billion.

And it’s getting bigger.

From: Frontline, aired January 15, 2016

It’s a 30 plus billion dollar industry.

It’s a huge business because we buy them. According to the Council for Responsible Nutrition, “68 percent of U.S adults take dietary supplements.”

Why? Let’s ask Regan.

Who’s he?

Regan Bailey is a nutritional epidemiologist in the Office of Dietary Supplements at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Regan says, “most people are using supplements because they believe it will improve their health…”

Belief is important. Convenience is too.

But, what really drives us to buy the supplements is trust.

From: The Council for Responsible Nutrition

consumer confidence remains high, with 84 percent of U.S. adults expressing overall confidence in the safety, quality and effectiveness of dietary supplements.

Trust is a good thing. But blind acceptance, that’s unnerving.

How can someone tell if supplements are safe and effective?

How do we know that we’re getting what we paid for?

Is there a way to avoid getting ripped off?

I’ll answer these common questions below with three keys you need to know.

Key #1. Approved & Unapproved Products on Are the Shelves Now

Unapproved products are out there. And they can be dangerous.

What’s an unapproved product?

It’s a product that has been pulled from the shelves due to adverse effects it causes OR its contents are INCONSISTENT with its label. In others words, you’re not getting what you think you paid for.  For example, you think your multivitamin has the amount of vitamin C as it says on the label. But, after testing, research says it doesn’t.

Begs the question…

How Do We Know What’s Approved?

Finding approved supplements is not too tough if you know what you’re doing.

It’s still a little tricky though due to this 1998 statement.

From: The FDA (Food and Drug Administration)

We, as consumers, along with manufacturers, are responsible for the safety and efficacy of dietary supplements.”

This statement means it’s up to us to see if a supplement stands the safety test over time.

Consumers have to report adverse effects, if they occur, from taking supplements. Once adverse reports pile up, a product eventually gets pulled from the shelves and the manufacturing company gets warned by the FDA.

It’s kind of a retroactive situation – put it on the shelf and if it hurts someone, take it off.


However, there is good news for us.

A few private companies test what’s on the market to see if products meet their stated standards for purity, quality, safety and labeling consistency.

Key #2. Three Quality Certification Programs Separate the Approved from the Non-Approved

To help consumers, three private testing companies stand out.

NSF International (National Sanitation Foundation)

US Pharmacopeial Convention (USP)

In a nutshell, these three companies will put their “stamps of approval” on a product IF it meets their standards. For NSF, it’ll be “certified”, for, it’ll be “approved” and for USP, it’ll be “verified”. They look like this:


Here’s the catch.

Some USP verified or NSF certified products don’t always pass testing for labeling consistency. This is where has its value.

In a recent test, 34% of multivitamins, some of which met USP and NSF standards for quality and purity, failed independent testing for labeling consistency.

Simply stated, these products didn’t have what they claimed to have in the bottle.

What gives?

USP and NSF ensure safety and quality, but tests labeling consistency.

The key to finding safe and effective supplements without getting ripped off is to combine the best of all the worlds. First, we find products that are approved for safety by USP or NSF. Then, we look to see if those products have contents consistent with their labels.

Too much to think about? No worries!

To get you started, I did all the research for you on multivitamins, omega-3s and vitamin D. These three are among the most commonly used and researched products in the US.

These three supplements are also associated with common health benefits and provide a good starting point for supporting the body’s overall nutrient needs.

Although I can’t provide you with a breakdown for the hundreds of supplements on the shelves, you will be armed with information to guide you in the right direction.

Here is a breakdown to help you find the best options for your money.

Key #3. Your Safe, Effective and Best Value Options

Multivitamins – Nutrient Boosters

A study released in the American Journal of Medicine found that multivitamins are a great inflammation-fighting tool, which is essential for health and longevity as inflammation is emerging as a major cause of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and aging in general.

Along with anti-inflammation support, multivitamins provide additional nutrients to one’s diet.

From: Harvard Health Publications, 2014

There are potential benefits and there are no known risks at this time,” says Dr. Howard Sesso, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. “It is worth considering a multivitamin as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Pick Your Category

Prenatal: Now Foods Pre-Natal Multivitamin with DHA Softgels, 180 Count

Children’s: Flintstones Gummies Complete Children’s Multivitamin

Teen: Kal Enhanced Energy Teen Complete

Women’s: One-A-Day Women’s Formula Complete Multivitamin

Women’s 50+: Simply Right Mature Women 50+ Multivitamin

Men’s: Berkley & Jensen Men’s Daily Multivitamins and Minerals Supplement Tablets

Men’s 50+: Natural Factors Dr. Murray Multistart Mens 50+ Tablets, 120-Count


Recent studies show omega-3 supplementation offers a variety of benefits; including reduced risk for heart attacks in adults and the potential for slowing down processes related to aging in adults.

When it comes to omega-3 supplements, fish oil is the most common form provided in softgels and is generally the least expensive. For some, the softgel form may cause a “fish burp”, so to address this concern, I’ve included a best value “enteric coated” form.

Additionally, the softgel form may be too big. Therefore I’ve included a best liquid option.

Pick Your Preference

Spring Valley Fish Oil Softgel – a moderately concentrated fish oil in the triglyceride form to ensure you’re getting the best absorption.

21st Century Fish Oil Enteric-Coated Softgel –  is for folks who want to avoid the “fish burp” with an enteric coated softgel. These deliver directly to the small intestine instead of the stomach to limit the “fish burp,” which is why they cost a bit more than the softgels mentioned above.

Barlean’s Fresh Catch Fish Oil – Orange Flavor Liquid – is one of the only liquids to be tested and approved on the market.


Additional options include Krill Oil, Algal Oil (Vegan) and Super Omega-3s

Viva Labs Krill Oil Softgels  – a more concentrated form of omega-3 fatty acids. Although this brand offers the lowest cost per serving among the Krill oils approved by independent testing, it is more expensive than the fish oils.

Naturals Vegan True Non-Fish Omega-3s  – provides omega-3s at the lowest cost among those passing independent testing for safety and efficacy in the vegan class. For vegans, Algal oil is a good source of omega-3s that is assumed to support better absorption.

Life Extension Super Omega-3 Plus EPA/DHA With Sesame Lignans, Olive Extract, Krill and Astaxanthin Softgels – is the loaded omega-3 that contains extra health boosting ingredients at a higher cost. New research findings show that a multi-complex form of Omega-3s may better support your cardiovascular system and your brain.


Getting sufficient vitamin D improves bone health, reduces risk of heart attack and stroke, helps issues with asthma and allergies, and decreases inflammation. (1-4)

Many of us get enough vitamin D with food and exposure to sun.  Good food sources include fortified foods like milk and yogurt, as well as cheese, egg yolks, mushrooms, and fatty fish. For sun exposure, roughly 15 minutes at least twice a week on the face, arms, and hands without sunscreen gets you what you need.

With limited sun during the winter, however, some folks turn to Vitamin D supplements. Whether you need them or not depends on your Vitamin D level.

If you’re not sure that you’re getting enough Vitamin D, a blood test can help. The lowest desirable level is 20ng/mL of 25-hydroxyvitamin D, whereas 25 to 35 ng/mL may be more beneficial.(5)  Research shows that too much is not a good thing;  over 39 ng/dL has a poor association with good health. (6)

Pick Your Preference


Source Naturals Vitamin D-3 liquid drops – ideal for folks who want to easily adjust the desired amount at the lowest price.

Twin Lab D-3 Dots  – small dissolvable tablets

Simply Right Vitamin D-3 – softgel


Carlson Super Daily D-3 for Kids  – the liquid form makes it easy for the parents to adjust the amount provided.

Nice job! You made it to the finish line! Now let’s wrap up today’s article.


  1.  Approved & Unapproved Products are on the Shelves Now  – More than two of every three people in the U.S. take supplements and over eighty percent of them trust what they take will be safe and effective. But, sometimes products don’t contain what their labels say.
  1.  Three Quality Certification Programs Separate the Approved from the Non-Approved – NSF, and the USP test supplements to ensure products meet strict criteria for purity, quality, and safety, and approve content consistency for product labeling.
  1.  Your Safe, Effective and Best Value Options – Top options for purity, quality, label consistency and value are provided above for Multivitamins, Omega-3s and Vitamin D.

Thank you for reading!


PS Want to see more tested and true products (beyond multivitamins, Omega-3s and vitamin D)?

click here to visit our  research-based online reference guide.

Please share my mission to help others find safe and effective supplements without getting ripped off.  Forward or share this message with friends!

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1.  Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation in Postmenopausal Women, 2013.
2.  American Journal of Cardiology, Vitamin D Deficiency and Supplementation and Relation to Cardiovascular Health, 2012.
3.  Allergy, Asthma, & Clinical Immunology, Asthma in the elderly: a study of the role of vitamin D, 2014.
4.  American Journal of Cardiology, Relation between serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D and C-reactive protein in asymptomatic adults (from the continuous National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2001 to 2006), 2012.
5.  The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Vitamin D levels for preventing acute coronary syndrome and mortality: evidence of a nonlinear association., 2013.
6.  Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, A Reverse J-Shaped Association of All-Cause Mortality with Serum 25-Hydroxyvitamin D in General Practice: The CopD Study, 2012.


About Dave Barnas, M.S., CES, NASM-CPT

Dave is the true health guy. He is the founder and owner of True Health Unlimited, LLC, a personal health and fitness company in Tolland, CT & Wellness Writers, a subscription wellness newsletter service that incorporates live & virtual wellness workshops for companies across New England. Dave earned both a Bachelor's (1998) and Master's Degree (2000) in Nutritional Science from the University of Connecticut, and also holds certifications as a National Strength and Conditioning Association Certified Personal Trainer, National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist, Aerobics and Fitness Association of America Group Instructor, and Nutrition Specialist. He's also the lead author for four published works. Dave has over 20 years of combined experience in nutrition counseling, dietary supplement advising, personal training, corrective exercise training, health coaching and public speaking. In addition, he's spent over 25 years studying spirituality, meditation, and personal growth strategies. Dave's clients are all ages: youth, college championship level athletes, folks in their retired years, and everywhere in between. He's worked with three of the nation's leading physicians as a dietary supplement advisor and been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, Yale University, UConn, St. Joseph College and various church groups, health clubs, and high schools. In 2013, he was invited to Whole Foods Market to share his Real Food Therapy Guide. And in 2015, Dave's funny "Snowga" (yoga in the snow) video caught the attention of The National Weather Channel, who aired it to shake off cabin fever and bring laughter. In 2016, Dave & Hollie (his wife) founded Wellness Writers and deliver evidence-based Wellness E-newsletters to spread a message of health and happiness to various businesses throughout the US. Dave currently serves as a personal trainer in Tolland as well as a wellness coach and writer for several businesses, gyms and wellness facilities throughout the US.

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