Vitamin Mom Blog

Natural Nutrition for your family

How do you know the difference between OK and quality vitamins?

One of our friends on Facebook, Sherri recently asked:

“How do you know the difference between ok and quality vitamins?”

It’s a great question.  Customers often wonder what the differences are between commercial vitamins (found in supermarkets/chain pharmacies/wholesale clubs)  and specialty vitamins (found in specialty health stores).

For a detailed response, I went to one of our most experienced and wisest staff members, Phillip.  He has more than 30 years of professional work experience in the natural nutrition industry, working for both retailers and manufacturers.  Here’s a breakdown of the most important differences explained by Phillip.


1.) Fillers & Coating

Fillers and binders are added to vitamins/supplements to hold the product together in its capsule or tablet form.  It is also used to help the raw materials flow through equipment during manufacturing.  There’s no getting around the need for fillers and binders, but what ingredients manufacturers use can make a big difference in the effectiveness and safety of a product.

Many mainstream commercial vitamins use materials like talc (magnesium silicate) as a filler and anti-caking agent.  Talc is a carcinogen with several serious health risks (which is why it is not longer used in baby powder).

2.) Absorption


Just like the food & drink you swallow, a vitamin gets moved through your digestive system and is eventually passed out as waste.   The longer it takes for our body to break down a capsule or tablet, the less time it has to absorb the nutrients.

Added ingredients like talc are harder for our bodies to break down.  That’s why manufacturers of specialty vitamins will often use a plant-based vegetable protein (for example, cellulose).  Our bodies can break this down more quickly, allowing the body to absorb more of the nutrients.

Phillip explained that reputable manufacturers of quality vitamins will test their products to ensure fast and efficient absorption.  He has visited several manufacturing facilities over the years.  The reputable companies test a sample from each batch in simulated stomach acid.  If it is not completely broken down within 20 minutes, they’ll crush up the batch and start over.  Absorption is that important.

Bottom line, if your body has to take more time breaking down the fillers, it does not have time to absorb the nutrients in the vitamin.  The vitamin will pass through your body without doing much good.  In such a case, you’re swallowing the vitamin, but not really getting its benefits.

3.) Artificial Dyes, Flavors & Preservatives

Many of the commercial companies include artificial food dyes, flavors and preservatives to their vitamins.  Below is a chart on the health concerns of artificial food dyes from Center for Science in the Public Interest.  You can download their full report, “Food Dyes.  A Rainbow of Risk“.

Food dyes

Let’s Compare

To highlight these 3 important points, here are the ingredients for a well advertised, national brand of vitamins targeted at women 50+.  This brand is a household name and can be found in just about every pharmacy and grocery store. I’ve highlighted the ingredients below that are most concerning.

Nationally Recognized Commercial Multi-Vitamin

National Brand

Other Ingredients: Calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, pregelatinized corn starch, ascorbic acid (vit. C), dibasic calcium phosphate, magnesium oxide, crospovidone. Contains <2% of: acacia, ascorbyl palmitate, beta-carotene, BHT, biotin, boric acid, calcium pantothenate, calcium stearate, cholecalciferol (vit. D3), chromium picolinate, citric acid, corn starch, cupric sulfate, cyanocobalamin (vit. B12), di-alpha tocopheryl acetate (vit. E), FD&C blue #2 aluminum lake, FD&C red #40 aluminum lake, ferrous fumarate, folic acid, gelatin, hydrogenated palm oil, hypromellose, lecithin, lutein, magnesium stearate, managanese sulfate, medium-chain triglycerides, microcrystalline cellulose, modified food starch, niacinamide, nickelous sulfate, phytonadione (vit. K), polyethylene glycol, polyvinyl alcohol, potassium iodide, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vit. B6), riboflavin (vit. B2), silicon dioxide, sodium ascorbate, sodium benzoate (artificial preservative), sodium borate, sodium citrate, sodium metavanadate, sodium molybdate, sodium selenate, sorbic acid, sucrose, talc, thiamine mononitrate (vit. B1), titanium dioxide, tocopherols, vitamin A acetate (vit. A), zinc oxide. May also contain <2% of: Maltodextrin, sodium aluminosilicate, sunflower oil, tribasic calcium phosphate. Contains: Soy.

Specialty Natural Vitamin

By contrast, here is the list of ingredients and Supplement Facts from a multi-Vitamin for women 50+ by Nature’s Way.


Other Ingredients: Vegetable stearic acid, Cellulose, Vegetable modified cellulose gum, Silica, Vegetable modified cellulose, Vegetable magnesium stearate, Vegetable glycerin
Contains no salt, sugar, yeast, wheat grain, dairy products, artificial flavoring, colors or preservatives.

Serving Size: 1 Tablet
Servings Per Container: 60
Amount Per Serving %DV
Vitamin A (50% (3750 IU) as Vitamin A acetate and 50% (3750 IU) as beta carotene) 7500 IU 150%
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) 120 mg 200%
Vitamin D (as cholecalciferol) 1000 IU 250%
Vitamin E (as d-alpha tocopheryl succinate) 100 IU 333%
Vitamin K (as phytonadione) 100 mcg 125%
Thiamin (as thiamin mononitrate) 25 mg 1667%
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) 25 mg 1471%
Niacin (as niacinamide) 50 mg 250%
Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxine HCI) 40 mg 2000%
Folic Acid 800 mcg 200%
Vitamin B12 (as cyanocobalamin) 225 mcg 3750%
Biotin 325 mcg 108%
Pantothenic Acid (as d-calcium pantothenate) 40 mg 400%
Calcium (from Aquamin calcified mineral source Red Algae Lithothamniom sp. (whole plant)) 200 mg 20%
Iodine (as potassium iodide) 150 mcg 100%
Magnesium (from Aquamin calcified mineral source Red Algae Lithothamniom sp. (whole plant), as oxide) 100 mg 25%
Zinc (as zinc oxide) 15 mg 100%
Selenium (as sodium selenate) 250 mcg 357%
Copper (as copper sulfate) 2 mg 100%
Manganese (as manganese sulfate) 5 mg 250%
Chromium (as chromium picolinate) 250 mcg 208%
Molybdenum (as sodium molybdate) 75 mcg 100%
Orchard Fruits Blend: Pomegranate (seed); Acai Extract (whole palm fruit); Juice Powders; Grape; Plum; Cranberry; Blueberry; Strawberry; Blackberry; Bilberry; Cherry; Apricot; Papaya; Orange; Pineapple 30 mg *
Garden Veggies Juice Powder Blend: Parsley; Kale; Spinach; Wheat Grass; Brussels Sprout; Asparagus; Broccoli; Cauliflower; Beet, Carrot; Cabbage; Garlic 30 mg *
Mind & Body Energy Blend: Ginkgo biloba Extract (leaf); Siberian Eleuthero (root); Rhodiola Rosea Extract (root) standardized to 3% rosavins and 1% salidroside; Korean Ginseng (root); Gotu Kola (stem leaf) 30 mg *
Cardiovascular Blend with Resveratrol: Hawthorn (berry); Japanese Knotweed standardized to 50% resveratrol; Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinone) 20 mg *
CranRX Urinary Anti-Adherence 100% Whole Cranberry: fruit solids (Early Black variety) standardized to PACs (proanthocyanidins) 20 mg *
Flax Lignan Blend with SDG Lignans: High lignan flax fiber (seed); Flax lignan extract (seed hulls) standardized to 20% secoisolariciresinol diglycoside (SDG) lignan 20 mg *
Green Food/Spirulina Blend: Spirulina (microalgae); Kelp/Bladderwrack (whole thallus); Alfalfa (leaf, stem); Barley Grass (grass); Dandelion (leaf); Wheat Grass (grass); Melissa (leaf); Lemon Grass (grass); Nettle (leaf); Blessed Thistle (stem, leaf, flower); Chlorella (broken-cell microalgae); Plantain (leaf); Blue Green Algae (microalgae); Cilantro (leaf) 20 mg *
Organic Mushroom Defense Blend: Cordyceps; Reishi; Shiitake; Hiratake; Maitake; Yamabushitake; Himematsutake; Kawaratake; Chaga; Zhu Ling; Agarikon; Mesima 20 mg *
Digestive Enzyme Blend: Concentrated enzyme formula (Protease I, Protease II, Peptizyme SP, Amylase, Lactase, Invertase, Lipase, Cellulase, Alpha Galactosidase); Betaine HCI; Bromelain (from pineapple), Papain (from papaya) 20 mg *
Citrus Bioflavonoid Complex: (from lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, tangerine) providing: Hesperidin, Naringin, Narirutin, Eriocitrin, Flavonols and Flavones 20 mg *
Choline (as choline bitartrate) 10 mg *
Inositol 10 mg *
Rutin 5 mg *
Lutein (from marigold) 1 mg (1000 mcg) *
Boron (as amino acid chelate) 1 mg (1000 mcg) *
*Daily Value Not Established.
†Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your diet values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

There are other factors to consider when selecting the right vitamin for you.  Some of these other factors may be important to you.

Other Factors to Consider

  • Natural vs synthetic sources of vitamins
  • Organic ingredients 
  • Non-GMO
  • Vegan/Vegetarian
  • Food Based
  • Kosher
  • Liquid, Powder or Capsule

For help selecting vitamins for children, see Choosing a Kids’ Multi-vitamin.

Always consult your professional health care providers about your specific health needs and concerns.


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This entry was posted on March 5, 2014 by in Nutrition, Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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