supplements2

The Whole9 Supplement Evaluation Checklist

The unsupported claims, inflated price points and aggressive sales tactics of products ranging from recovery beverages to “fat burning” pills to meal replacement drinks can make the vast nutrition marketplace more than a little confusing. And it becomes even more challenging when those hawking the products are well-known fitness brands imploring you to put your health in their hands.

Understand, the Whole9 doesn’t sell any supplements. We actually don’t push supplements in any way – everything we’ve ever written about, from fish oil to Vitamin D3 to magnesium, has been presented as an optional addition to your daily, healthy, eat-real-food diets. And while there are a few supplements we take on a daily basis, these aren’t things we think YOU should take… they’re just what we use for ourselves, in our own context. So we thought it would be helpful if we shared a bit of our own evaluation process with you, so you can make your own educated decisions about which supplements to take, and which to ditch.

Our Checklist, Revisited

Today’s post details our Supplement Evaluation Checklist – the criteria we use when purchasing vitamins, minerals or other supplements. We run each product through this checklist, making sure it meets every single one of these criteria before continuing with our evaluation. If a supplement fails at any point, with very few exceptions, we skip it. If a product passes each test, we’re then left with one final question – one that we are able to answer only for ourselves.

Start at the top, and ask yourself the following questions about each and every supplement you’re being pitched, sold or pressured to take. Does it pass the test?

1. Does it contain garbage ingredients? Does your supplement contain, in no particular order: added sugar (in any form), grains (wheat, corn, or other grain by-products), dairy (whey, casein, or other dairy by-products), soy (other than in trace amounts or in “lecithin” form, which we’re not concerned with), artificial colors or chemical-sounding ingredients you don’t recognize or can’t pronounce? Even worse, does the manufacturer refuse to clarify their “proprietary blend”, leaving you in the dark as to what their supplement actually contains? If quality or full disclosure is compromised, your evaluation ends here, folks.

2. Is the product designed to replace real, high quality, fresh food in your diet? Meal replacement shakes, vegetables-in-a-pill or breakfast bars all promise to do just as much good as real food in your everyday diet. Foolishness. There isn’t a powder, pill or shake in the world that can replace the vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and fiber (the stuff that actually makes you healthy) found in natural, healthy, fresh foods.

3. Are the product’s claims too good to be true? The supplement industry is wholly unregulated – which means manufacturers can make all sorts of claims about their product’s ingredients and benefits. Beware of inflated, unsupported claims that sound too good to be true, and have little to no peer-reviewed long-term research to back them up. The idea that a pill can “put a protective coating around your muscle so only the fat is trimmed off” should be enough to make you both laugh out loud and run for the hills.

4. Does the label focus on aesthetic changes? Products that are designed with the primary purpose of slimming/leaning/trimming you out miss the forest for the trees, often in a dangerous way. Most of these “slim” pills, powders and shakes contain ingredients that could be harmful to your health, like stimulants and diuretics. And all of these supplements are asking you to focus on what’s in the mirror instead of long-term, sustainable health and body composition. Let’s face it – if you lose a few pounds by taking a pill without effectively changing your eating habits, how likely are you to actually stay at that weight?

5. Is there a hard and heavy sales pitch behind your consideration? If your motivation to buy is based on an aggressive, big-business marketing campaign, fear-mongering (“If you don’t take this pill, you won’t succeed!”) or generalized group-think (“All the event competitors use our shakes”), then think twice. Beware of products who yell, scream and intimidate to get your attention. When was the last time you saw a You-Tube commercial for kale?

6. Finally, is it cost-prohibitive to eating better quality food? Even if the supplement meets all of the above criteria, if the daily cost means you’ll have to cut your real-food budget just to afford it, it’s simply not worth it. You’ll always get more benefit from improving your meat, fish and egg quality and choosing fresh, local vegetables and fruits, so skip the supplement and save your pennies for a quarter cow and a CSA share instead.

The Final Cut

If you’ve run the supplement-in-question through our entire checklist and it still makes the cut, then it’s time for you to exercise your own judgment. At worst, your vitamin, mineral or supplement is going to put you out a few dollars and still not provide the purported benefits – a waste of money, but no negative effects on your overall health and fitness. At best, the supplement will provide a boost to the already high quality food you are eating, and help you fill in those small missing pieces in your daily diet and lifestyle. Make up your own mind. Do your own research, talk to someone you trust, or try it for yourself for 30 days and evaluate your own experience.

In the meantime, take a peek inside your own cabinets, and see which bottles would pass our Evaluation Checklist. Post your results (and your thoughts) to comments.

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Comments

  1. Ashley Mclean says

    I have been on the hunt for a good multi vitamin and calcium supp for my kids. My son has to take 1000mg calcium ad day along with 10,000 IU of vitamin D. I give him liquid vit d. but can not find any multi vit or calcium that doesn’t contain. sugar or other bad ingredients. Would you be able to talk with me over email to find a good vitamin for them? I am having a hard time finding one for myself too. everything I look at seems to have soy. by the way just got done with 45 days Whole30, taking a family vacation then the whole fam is jumping on board for another one. I am so excited to see the amazing results the kids will find within themsleves just like I did. Thank you for changing my life :)

  2. Jason says

    I only use BCAAs and Glutamine (short term for gut repair). Their ingredients are pretty simple: L-Leucine, L-Isoleucine, L-Valine, L-Glutamine. Nothing else. Unfortunately they taste like rotten skunk urine.

  3. says

    Ashley,

    We can certainly do a one hour consultation to help you find a vitamin for your kids, but I’d recommend speaking with your doctor (if that is who is recommending those daily doses) to see what brand he/she recommends. That dose of Vitamin D is pretty darn high – so I’d stick with his/her medical opinion.

    The multi Chris Kresser recommends for grown-ups is Pure Encapsulations, and is called Nutrient 950 with Vitamin K (available online). It seems like a good one.

    Best,
    Melissa

  4. Tim says

    All,

    Thanks for the info. What about protein shakes for post workout supplementation? I was taking an All Natural Whey Protein from Optimum nutrition. The price recently went up and I’d rather by food for the amount of 5lb bucket. Is that what you’d recommend.

    Thanks,

    Tim

  5. says

    Tim,

    We always recommend real food post-workout (or any other time). Real protein sources digest and absorb more slowly, aiding your recovery for a longer period of time than whey protein shakes. Eggs, chicken, salmon or deli meats are all relatively “light” and easy protein sources right after a training session. However, if you’re going to do a meal replacement, you can use a 100% egg white protein powder (NOW Foods makes one – tastes like junk but that’s the price you pay).

    Best,
    Melissa

  6. Tim says

    Melissa,

    Thank you for the response. I was afraid you’d say that ;) just kidding…I’ll make the switch to whole foods for post workout. Cant wait to the body composition change. Also, your piece on picking out veggies was great. Can you and dallas do a piece on locating the cheapest, grass fed meat products? Trying to do this on a budget is very challenging.

    Thanks again,

    Tim

  7. says

    Have you read our Paleo Poor post, Tim? Sometimes, it’s about buying the highest quality meat, seafood and eggs you can find – not specifically shopping for beef or chicken. If there’s a run on wild caught salmon, buy a bunch and freeze it! If you’ve got access to grass-fed beef at a farmer’s market, eat beef all week. When you’re on a budget and quality is important, sometimes you have to adjust your preferences to accommodate what’s available or affordable. Check that post out for details.

    http://whole9life.com/2011/01/paleo-poor-your-guide-to-the-grocery-store/

    Best,
    Melissa

  8. Imogene says

    Has there been any experience in the Whole30 community with regard to allergy or food sensitivity to eggs? I have heard that eggs are often times taken out of an elimination diet to help discover food sensitivity. It is often lumped into the “eggs & dairy” category.

    I am on my first Whole30 and am using more eggs than ever to help with many health issues. One such issue is discovering the source of a persistent skin rash.

    Any thoughts Melissa?

    Thank you!

    Imogene

  9. says

    Imogene,

    Eggs are a pretty common allergen, especially if you’ve got an autoimmune disease or intestinal permeability. However, they’re not as high on the list as grains, dairy or legumes, and there are other foods (like nuts and seeds) that are also common culprits.

    If you’re doing your first Whole30 now, you can approach this one of two ways. Either cut out eggs now as a preemptive strike, or do your Whole30 as written, and see if eliminating the most common offenders helps. If, at the end of your 30 days (or 45, or however long you choose) your condition hasn’t improved, then you could extend your program, further eliminating eggs, nuts and seeds.

    It’s entirely up to you – but your experiment must always include the complete (100%) elimination of all grains, dairy and legumes to be a successful trial. Just eliminating eggs while you go back to eating oatmeal and yogurt isn’t likely going to help. Make sense?

    Best,
    Melissa

  10. Imogene says

    Thank you!….It totally makes sense. I am not sure if I have intestinal permeability, but I seem to have all the symptoms of having low stomach acid.

    My goal for Whole30 was to learn the cause of a very itchy skin rash and uncontrollable sugar cravings. So far, Whole30 has reduced the sugar dragon like no other method I have ever tried Yahoo!…on that one. I like the plan to complete my Whole30 as written (I am on day 20 today!…Yay!), and then refine from there. Taking eggs out would be a little difficult since it makes life so simple for breakfast options. There are ways around that and I will figure it out.

    Awesome!….I love having a great plan…. :=)

  11. Ryan says

    We just received an order of the Pure Encapsulations Nutrient 950 with Vitamin K and noticed that it contains soy. We picked it up based on the recommendation in ISWF but we did not expect the soy. Did we pick up the wrong one?

  12. says

    Ryan,

    No, you’re in the right place. The trace amounts of soy (usually a lecithin form) found in some supplements is of zero concern in terms of allergenic or estrogenic potential. While we don’t want to see soy as an ingredient in our food, in supplements, it’s usually not of concern when used in this fashion. We need to edit this article to reflect this, in fact – the idea of lecithin being pretty darn harmless is a newer conclusion than this article reflects.

    Best,
    Melissa

  13. David Cohen says

    Hi guys
    i have been trying to find a B12 Methylcobalim suplement that fits the paleo requeriments.
    Any ideas?
    Many of those i have checked contian corn derived binders and starches.

    Thanks
    David Cohen

  14. David Cohen says

    Hi guys
    i have been trying to find a B12 Methylcobalim suplement that fits the paleo requeriments.
    Any ideas?
    Many of those i have checked contian corn derived binders and starches.

    Thanks a lot
    David Cohen

  15. says

    David,

    When we use a B12 methylcobalim supplement, it’s an under-the-tongue dissolvable, and it’s got some sugar. It’s going to be hard to find one without, in fact. You really want to take this one sublingual, and the best way to create that is as a lozenge – which means maybe some fillers, and at the very least, a tiny amount of sugar alcohols or some other form of sweetener.

    Really, unless you’re on the Whole30, we don’t think this is a big deal.

    Best,
    Melissa

  16. Angela says

    Good day,

    Well I just started the W30 diet, and I have been practising a more Paleo diet for a while and thought this would be something to consider since I have experienced some plateaus in my own diet and weight loss goals.

    Since eliminating so many other items in my diet, I was good with still eating rice, quinoa, gluten free oatmeal, and so forth. Now looking at this diet, those will be removed.

    However, I have a HUGE question. There are times that I use a protein drink to supplement my food intake…meaning, I still eat whole foods, but knowing I’m not getting enough in a day (due to work etc). I have opted to take a Pea Protein based shake. The product line is called VEGA, they are all natural, contains a lot of the essential greens, vits and protibotics.

    In discussing with my friend who recommended W30…she asked if I was still going to be taking the shake because it contains a Rice Powder as well. ???? SOOOO the big question is would something like this be eliminated as well? From some of the other information I’ve read on your site the elimination of grains/rice, etc…seemed to be causet the product “stays whole” and can put tears in the lining of the stomach or intestine.

    Your feedback would be greatly appreciated!!!

  17. Erin@Whole9Life says

    Hi Angela,

    First off, we do not recommend drinking your food, so things like smoothies and shakes would be out for your Whole30. And it sounds like the shakes you currently use, be they with pea protein or rice protein, are double whammies since legumes (peas) and grains (rice) are not Whole30 compliant. Stick to real, whole foods – meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and good fats – and you will be golden!

    -Erin

  18. Aaron Stinchcomb says

    Hello,
    Thanks for your time. I have goals to play college basketball in the coming months and would really like to start a whole 30. One problem I face is that I play basketball inn the mornings and do P90X at night.. plus I am looking to put on 8lbs of muscle. So I bought supplements from my logical GNC and I was wondering am I going about this all wrong? The supplements are called meag men.

  19. tim gephart says

    No reason to waste your $ at GNC. That place is a total ripoff. Plus if you are only trying to add 8 lbs of muscle that’s not hard at all. Buy some chicken, steaks and some green beans and throw in some fat like an avocado and maybe a sweet potato for additional carbs AMD you’re all set.

  20. Brian says

    So I am getting ready to start my whole 30. I am excited and have found some good info here, not only in the article but in the posts and responses. I can see that I need to replace my post-workout whey protein shake with real food. I take BCAA’s before and after my workout which I think is okay. And I also take Ajipure L-Glutamine after my workout. But there are a couple of things I take that I am not sure whether I should eliminate or not.

    The first is creatine. I use kre-alkalyn both before and after my workouts. Is that okay to use?

    The other is Nitric Oxide. I use a pre-workout Nitric Oxide drink. I really like the product as it gives me a good pump and an energy boost. But I suppose it is out of bounds for the whole 30. Thoughts??

  21. Ryan says

    Right, but in the article, they say soy lecithin is ok in supplements because it is in trace amounts. Jut wondering if it is the same for tea.

  22. tim gephart says

    What’s the take on Naked Juice smoothies? Obviously eating whole organic fruit is the best option hut I travel a lot and sometimes lack the resources to brown bag. Is this line to good to he true?

  23. rungurl says

    I just bought daily burn fuel to use as a protein supplement for AM shakes. I usually add almond milk, ice, frozen fruit and a tbsp of almond butter. i really like having a breakfast i don’t have to think about. actually i am usually uninterested in eating in the morning. is this shake a no go for whole 30?

  24. Martha Ray Barger says

    I have been a supplement junkie for many years and have completed two Whole30′s this year and liked the effects for helping with food sensitivities. I like the Paleo and the whole food thoughts. I am still dealing with some extra weight, insulin resistance, hypothyroidism, slight joint pains, dry skin, a rash and general aging since menopause 4 years ago. These things keep me wanting to look for hope in a bottle– food supplements purer than just food ‘based’ supplements. May just be a habit I need to break but still I wonder about Vitamineral /green powder type products, herbals and Ayurvedic supplements. Also I have tons of other products like Flower essence, essential oils, Cell Food, gelatin herbal tinctures and a very large suitcase of other supplements I’ve kept to perhaps use medicinally. I prefer fermented foods like CocoYo (coconut yogurt, Sauerkraut, Pickles etc over probiotics- since in the past probiotics and enzymes did not seem to agree with me. It is just hard to let go of my addiction for aids and the thought that I might not be able to get all the nutrition I need from food.

  25. Beth says

    I’m in a bit of a quandary…

    I always start my day with a protein shake: Thorne Mediclear Plus, Native Forest canned full-fat coconut milk, a whole lemon or lime (peel and pith, too,) sliced fresh ginger, cooked and cooled dark leafy greens, fresh herbs, cinnamon, and 1 T chia, ground flax or hemp seeds.

    I eat this gradually during the morning, so my system can assimilate what is essentially pre-digested food more gradually.

    I realize this is not Whole 30 – approved. I do this, though, because I cannot swallow pills, and the vitamins and minerals in the Mediclear Plus are the closest thing to supplementation I’ve found so far.

    I would greatly appreciate comments on this protocol – and am still casting about for high-quality chewable and/or mix-with-liquid supplement options, so that would be great to hear about as well!

    Thanks so much!

  26. Chris says

    Dallas & Melissa,

    I am curious if you guys have looked into a supplement called Athletic Greens. Its co-founder, Chris “The Kiwi” Ashenden, seems to have a lot in common with you guys on his views regarding overall nutrition, including eating nutrient-dense foods comprised of clean animal-sourced chewable proteins and fats, vegetables, and fruits and nuts/seeds in moderation depending on how your body responds. In fact, he has a 30-day weight-loss/’reset button’ type diet that is exactly the same as yours, minus the fruit and nuts. His supplement is marketed as a type of nutritional ‘insurance policy’ using completely food-sourced ingredients designed to fill in any gaps that regular diet may miss.

  27. Martha Ray Barger says

    An update since June 2013. After the Three Whole 30 programs with some rebound from restriction I did this year my rashes flared but I am so thankful for the programs since they have lead me to refocus my efforts. Now concentrating on formulating a program specially to support digestion with the goal to build my immune system to fight candida which I believe grew even in my Whole 30 programs. I was eating too much fruit. I think it is Candida that keeps me and perhaps many others from being able to resist and restrict the foods we know we need to. I’ve yet to formulate the diet protocol I can actually live with long enough to heal my digestion but I am working on it with an emphasis on local, ‘organic or low pesticide’ seasonal food, some candida fighting supplements and supplements that support healthy bacteria. It is a challenge to find pure supplements without alcohol and fillers, but medicinally I do believe it is needful. Will review some your stricter Whole30 programs and see if they fit for what I am working toward. This is a challenge for me since I spent 50 years failing at different ‘diets’. I think because of Candida not being addressed.

  28. Rae L says

    You mentioned smoothies are out. I understand about processed or supplements like protein. But before I start this, I have to ask about homemade smoothies. I typically throw kale, dandelion leaves, spinach, apple and frozen berries into my Vitamix. I use canned coconut water if available otherwise water. I don’t like dandelion on its own and really love these smoothies. I have stopped taking vitamins as a result.

    Is this type of smoothie okay?

  29. says

    Hello,

    I completed my first Whole30 in early December and felt pretty darn good. However, I had gone off all my vitamins for the duration to see the real efffects (and some of them have small amounts of rice powder or something that made me feel I shouldn’t) and I definitely think it inhibited some of my healing. All my vitamins/supplements are prescribed by my naturopath to remedy some hormonal imbalances and vitamin deficienies.
    So, I want to give it another shot starting fresh in January. What are your thoughts on my prescribed supplements for the duration this time? The Whole30 alone was not able to conquer my hormone induced acne. :(

    Thanks!

  30. Steve says

    I am interested in starting the Whole30. I am big guy who enjoys weightlifting. I usually take a pre-workout supplement and a post workout whey protein shake. Are these things I would have to give up doing the Whole 30?

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