How to Buy the Best Supplements (For You and the Planet!)

Overhead of four types of natural supplements in different shapes and colors piled together on a table.
This post is brought to you by Wholefully brand partner New Hope Network and Inside the Bottle Partners: Natural Factors, OmniActive, and Orgenetics.

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Before you pop a single capsule, make sure you’re getting the absolute best herbal supplements your money can buy. We’ll teach you how to filter through the noise and find the best, most sustainable supplements on the shelf!

It used to be that only the nuttiest of health nuts regularly took supplements. But in the last few decades, dietary and herbal supplements have become so commonplace that you can pick them up at your regular grocery store while you grab ingredients for dinner!

While it’s exciting to see that folks want to take ownership of their own health, the boom of the supplement industry has given us consumers a lot of products, information, and brands to wade through. Knowing which company to trust with your health can be incredibly intimidating! So, if you’ve ever spent time staring at the rows upon rows of supplements feeling paralyzed by indecision—this post is for you.

Wholefully connected with three brands in the sustainable supplement movement— Natural Factors, OmniActive, and Orgenetics—for a special kind of partnership. Instead of telling you what supplements you should take and how often (which is a discussion to have with your health care professional), these three companies have asked us to help educate everyone on why it’s important to know what is inside the bottle of supplements you are taking.

Close-up of hand holding natural supplement pills and capsules of different shapes, sizes, and colors.

We’re going to give you practical advice that helps you determine important qualities about supplements. The way your supplements were produced, how the product is packaged, how the farmers are treated, where the ingredients come from—it all matters for the health of you and our planet (which is kinda the same thing). So let’s go inside the bottle!

Do I even need to take supplements? And if so, what supplements should I take?

Dietary and herbal supplements are just one piece of an entire suite of tools at your disposal to help manage your health. Does everyone need to take supplements all the time? Nope! But we at Wholefully believe supplements can be a helpful ally for many people and at various times in people’s lives. To figure out if and when supplements are right for you, it’s important to check in with a trusted health care professional. We wish it was as easy as handing over a list of must-take supplements for everybody—but every person and their health history is different.

Wholefully Protip

Make sure to check with your health care professional before starting or changing a supplement routine.

Why does it matter if my supplements are high quality?

It can be tempting to grab the most affordable option on the shelf, but before you are swept away by savings, think of it like this: everything that happens during the production process is concentrated into the supplement you are taking. It’s important to know what is behind those dollars.

If you are taking echinacea, and it was grown on an organic farm using sustainable growing practices, made by people who are paid a fair wage, and produced in a factory that prides itself on sustainability and producing high-quality, scientifically-proven products—all of that goodness is going to be distilled into your supplement.

But, of course, the inverse happens as well. If you purchase a supplement where the crop was grown with heavy pesticide use by farmers who aren’t paid a living wage, and produced through a web of unregulated companies trying to cut corners wherever possible (and probably polluting our planet along the way)—all of that is also going to be concentrated in your product.

Close-up of a hand holding a natural supplements bottle showing the USDA Organic Seal and Non-GMO seal.

What should I look for when shopping for supplements?

Sometimes a healthcare professional will direct you to a specific brand or type of supplement, but more often than not, you’ll get generic advice, and you’re left to fend for yourself among the aisles and aisles of supplement bottles. Here’s our advice for cutting through the noise:

Look for branded ingredients.

Some supplement manufacturers work with ingredient suppliers who have their own branded ingredients. They are usually listed on the back of the bottle either by logo (see the Lutemax 2020 logo below) or by name (usually with a ® symbol in the Supplement Facts list). Why is this important? Well, these branded ingredients are more consistent, more rigorously tested, and usually have multiple scientific studies to back up their claims. Some responsible suppliers produce their branded ingredients through a vertically integrated supply chain (more on that in a bit)—meaning the supplier controls every part of the process.

A hand holds a bottle of herbal supplements to show the back label with supplement facts and ingredients.

Think of it like this: the difference between a supermarket tomato in January and a homegrown tomato from your garden in August is night and day—but they can both be called “tomatoes.” Looking for branded ingredients in your supplements makes sure you always get the homegrown tomatoes.

Look for the USDA Organic seal and/or organic ingredients.

There certainly are high-quality supplements out there that are not certified organic, but if you’re really in a rush—finding a supplement with a USDA certified organic seal or organic ingredients will go a long way towards making sure the product you are buying is of higher quality.

Wholefully Protip

Certified Organic products are always non-GMO. But non-GMO products are not always Certified Organic.

Close-up of a hand holding a bottle of herbal supplements to show the label on the back listing its organic ingredients.

Look for vertical supply chain integration.

You know the phrase “if you want something done right, do it yourself”? That’s vertical integration. It means a company has control over the majority or entirety of the process of producing a product—instead of farming out individual elements to multiple companies.

In the case of supplements, that means the ingredient producer or supplement manufacturer is involved from the farm to the bottle. Why is this important? Transparency. When a company is involved at every stage of the supplement process, there is traceability that doesn’t exist if the production process is a confusing maze of unrelated, unregulated corporations.

Wholefully Protip

Space on the label is incredibly limited on supplement packaging, so to get a true picture of what’s inside the bottle, it’s important to research the company and ingredients on company websites and third-party testing sites, such as USP, Consumer Lab, or NSF.

Vertical integration also allows the premium-quality supplement companies to interject their values throughout the production process. For example, a company that prides itself on sustainability and treating its employees well? You’ll see those values at the farms, at the factories, at the bottling plants—everywhere.

How do you know if a product is made through a vertically integrated supply chain? Well, it’s really hard to tell from the packaging alone—the space there is just incredibly limited. This is when it’s time to whip out your smartphone or laptop and do your research. If you are thinking of purchasing a supplement, look at the company’s website for information about their supply chain, as well as any branded ingredients and/or the USDA Organic seal.

Herbal supplement bottles displayed with their pills, capsules, and droppers alongside all natural ingredients such as ginger root.

Look for fair trade and sustainable production practices.

For those of you who believe we vote with our dollars, you know just how important it is to purchase products from socially responsible companies whose values align with your own. Again, because of the limited packaging space, this information is usually included on the websites for the supplement manufacturers and ingredient suppliers, rather than on the packaging.

While social responsibility is vital through the entire supplement supply chain, a good canary in the coal mine to look for is how a company operates the farms that produces the ingredients. Are the farmers paid a living wage? Do they use sustainable growing practices (like organic farming practices, crop rotation, or cover crops)?

Close-up of four different varieties of herbal supplement pills and capsules.

What about sustainable packaging with supplements?

With a global push to reduce single use plastics (yay!), it would be easy to assume that the healthier supplements for you and our planet would always be packaged in glass containers—but we learned through connecting with Natural Factors, OmniActive, and Orgenetics that sometimes a supplement simply cannot be packaged in glass. Sustainability in supplement packaging is a tricky balancing act between keeping the product safe and shelf-stable and reducing the amount of single-use waste.

Sustainability also goes way beyond what you see on store shelves. Sustainable practices in growing the crops and manufacturing the product can have a huge impact on the health of our planet. Sustainable packaging is important, but it isn’t the whole picture.

Overhead of supplement jars open and on their sides with pills and capsules poured out onto the table.

We hope this cleared up some of your confusion on how to find the best supplements on the store shelves. To learn more about the sustainable supplement companies and ingredient suppliers behind this partnership, check them out here:

This post is brought to you by Wholefully brand partner New Hope Network and Inside the Bottle Partners: Natural Factors, OmniActive, and Orgenetics.
The content and opinions expressed here are my own. Want to be a sponsor? Let’s work together!

Cassie is the founder and CEO of Wholefully. She's a home cook and wellness junkie with a love of all things healthy living. She lives on a small hobby farm in Southern Indiana with her husband, daughter, two dogs, two cats, and 15 chickens.
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