You want to improve your health and enhance your diet with vitamins and supplements. But when you walk into the store, there are so many products to choose from, do you know how much to take, can they be combined… it’s overwhelming. Below are my naturopathic tips to choosing vitamins and supplements.

1. Read the label.

Just like it’s good to read the nutrition facts box on your foods, it’s good to read the entire label on your supplement bottles. What is the exact name of the ingredients in the product? What is the recommended dose on the bottle? Where is it manufactured? It’s a lot of information, but it’s good to get familiar with reading what’s on the label.

2. Avoid extra additives.

If you have a sense of what you need, then avoid the ‘extra’ additives, especially artificial colouring agents and flavours, lubricants and fillers – these provide no health value to the product and may actually be detrimental; I’ve had patients exhibit mild allergy reactions to such ingredients without realizing it.

3. Contact the company.

Whether online or by phone, feel free to contact the company whose product you’re considering to purchase. They should be able to provide quality control information and reports of each batch for each product… look for reference to levels of microbial contamination and heavy metal residues within a stated acceptable range and make sure these levels fall well below the acceptable level.

4. Know what’s important for you.

Must the product be gluten-free, kosher, tablet or liquid? This will help narrow your search and be less overwhelmed with the options.

5. Get a few opinions.

Speak to people you know and trust who are better-versed in supplements; it could be friends, your pharmacist, the health food store employees or owner, speak with your nutritionist/herbalist, your naturopathic doctor. Do some online research and get a sense about what feels right. Each ingredient in a product has a story whether it’s a vitamin, mineral, herb, homeopathic… get to know the stories of each ingredient. For example, some forms of magnesium absorb better than others, some work better in different parts of the body, some get more benefits when magnesium is taken before bed, in others people it’s best to spread it over the day… learn the different types of magnesium as well as the other ingredients you want to take.

6. Start with the basics.

It’s generally a good idea to be on a multivitamin, an omega-3 supplement, extra vitamin D as needed as well as a probiotic supplement from time to time. These often help a wide variety of people deal with a common issues: multi-nutrient insufficiencies, inadequate omega-3 from the diet and a commonly imbalanced intestinal microbial environment.

7. Start slow and low.

You don’t have to buy the super-sized, best value vitamin bottle. Start with a small volume bottle. Start with taking a low dose, less than what’s suggested on the label. This will give your body an opportunity to see how it handles it. Start with one new supplement over the course of a few days. Are there any signs of allergies or indigestion? If not, it likely agrees with you and you can build up gradually to your target dosage. It’s also okay to change brands after a few months, this way you can feel if there is a difference in how one works for you over the other.

When to take supplements. Here are some tips…

i) Take multivitamins and omega fat supplements with meals.
ii) Generally, take herbal products on an empty stomach.
iii) Many individual minerals absorb best before a meal, though may trigger nausea in susceptible people.
iv) Some feel discomfort when taking supplements after a meal, so I often suggest taking them just before or part way through the meal.

Finally, get advice if you’re also taking medications. Some supplements interact with medications. For instance, some supplements may interfere with drug absorption, or may change the levels of the drug in your system. It is very important to consult with a health professional if you want to derive extra benefits from supplements while also maintaining the benefit from your medications.

About the Author

Rahim Habib is a registered naturopathic doctor with over 15 years of experience in general family practice. He has a special interest in helping patients comprehensively detoxifying their bodies for preventative and therapeutic benefit. He also has a special interest in children’s health, assisting kids in their learning and behavioural health with conditions such as ADHD, Autism spectrum, asthma, allergies and childhood obesity. He also helps adults with chronic conditions, such as thyroid disorders, infertility, inflammation, obesity, autoimmunity, dementia and cancer care. He is the director of the Four Seasons Naturopathic Clinic for Detoxification and Healing and can be reached at 905-597-7201 or