A real support in everyday life, the food supplement not only fills the gaps, but also helps to achieve other goals: beauty, general well-being, weight loss, sports performance. The offer in terms of dietary supplements is however very vast and it is often difficult for an amateur to find his way around. Discover then in the following the key elements that will allow you to make an informed choice in this area.

A dietary supplement for a purpose

The dietary supplement is available over the counter in pharmacies, supermarkets and online. Indeed, unlike the medicinal plant, it is above all a foodstuff.

Its role is to supplement the usual diet, which may be deficient or unsuitable for the body in a specific situation. Since each dietary supplement meets a specific need, its choice will be made according to the objectives to be achieved, without forgetting to include possible personal contraindications in the equation.

To make up for deficiencies or micronutrient deficiencies in the body, intakes are rather targeted and supplementation is often prescribed by a doctor (in the case of pregnancy, health problems or a vegan diet).

For the purpose of well-being, for example to strengthen immunity or to tone up the body in case of temporary fatigue, food supplements rich in antioxidants and products rich in caffeine and vitamin C are the most favoured.

Consumed as a cure, some natural food supplements help to lose weight, especially those classified as fat burners. Others, called nutricosmetics, act on the health of the skin, hair and nails. They are generally rich in vitamin C, iron and omega-3.

In sports, the formulas are just as different for training and competition, as well as at each stage of activity (before and after exercise). Supplementation must also be adapted to the profile of the sportsperson and the requirements of his or her activity (endurance, explosiveness, strength, gain in muscle mass). In any case, protein supplements are the most widely used in this field.

The question of components

The components of food supplements can be categorized into a simplified set of 8 families: minerals and trace elements, vitamins, proteins and amino acids, essential fatty acids, probiotics and prebiotics, excipients, enzymes, and the category of plants and fungi. It should be noted that the presence or not of a component is governed by French and European legislation, and that the inventory of authorized components is the result of well-established scientific studies. Thus, it is important to be informed about the exhaustive list of these components in order to avoid exposing oneself to health problems.

It is also important to stress that while phytotherapy uses only natural products based on medicinal plants, food supplements may have components of synthetic or animal origin. Furthermore, phytotherapy products are not subject to standardisation in terms of active ingredients, unlike food supplements. This standardization is fundamental since it obliges the supplier of the supplement to maintain a constant concentration of active ingredients, despite the differences in the contents of the plant extracts.

Quality criteria

There are several quality criteria to consider when purchasing a dietary supplement. Formulation and dosage of active ingredients are considered to be the most important criteria. If the first establishes the list of ingredients present in the product, the second makes it possible to determine its effectiveness in relation to the objective of its use (weight loss, muscle mass gain, sports performance, etc.).

It is also necessary to consider the labels that provide a guarantee that the products comply with the requirements of the control bodies. The AB (Organic Agriculture) label, for example, guarantees that a minimum of 95% of the ingredients come from organic farming and that no synthetic chemical ingredients are present in the product. Ecocert, on the other hand, accepts a maximum of 5% synthetic molecules used for preservation. The Gluten Free label, represented by a crossed-out ear of wheat, indicates that the product does not contain more than 200 ppm of gluten. Sport Protect, on the other hand, guarantees that the food supplements, drinks and foods meet the requirements of the World Anti-Doping Agency. Finally, the Vegan label emphasises that no animal raw materials are included in the product.

The importance of the galenic form

Whether sold online or in pharmacies, natural food supplements are presented in the guise of drugs. Each pharmaceutical form has its advantages and disadvantages. As a general rule, it is chosen in relation to the technical constraints linked to the raw materials that the food supplement contains, and in relation to consumer preferences. Indeed, some components are incompatible with certain galenic forms, and it is sometimes easier to ingest a food supplement in one form than in another.

In tablets, capsules or capsules, the dosage of the natural food supplement is precise and it is pleasant to take since the galenic form has no taste or smell. On the other hand, the product is associated with adjuvants or additives to be preserved. The food supplement offered in bottles or syrups gives the possibility to adapt the dosage to the intake. Galenics ensures rapid assimilation by the body, but is not always pleasant to take as it can be affected by taste. Moreover, the bottles are not very nomadic and therefore not very practical. Presented in ampoule form, the food supplement is a pure extract, free of adjuvants or additives. It is possible to dilute it in a solution when taking it, however, its taste is not always pleasant. In addition, its transport presents risks and its dosage is not adjustable.

In addition to these standard galenic forms, the food supplement can be presented in the form of powder in sachets, sticks, monodoses or unicadoses…

The role of labelling

The labelling of a natural food supplement is full of information. Beyond the certification logos, and the precautions for use which are obligatory, it is important to closely follow some additional information. Among these statements, RDA or Reference Intake is the one that replaces the usual RDA or Recommended Daily Allowance. The statement, which is also required in the labelling of food supplements, gives an expression in percentage of what the product contains in relation to the RDI (Recommended Daily Allowance).

The mention « Titrated » or « Standardised », on the other hand, guarantees that all products have an equivalent concentration of active molecules. The absence of an indication generally means that the content of active ingredients may vary from one product to another.

As far as the units of measurement are concerned, the GDU/g corresponds to the Gelatin Digestion Unit per gram, i.e. the value of enzyme activity for the digestion of a protein in a food supplement unit. The IU, or International Units, is increasingly replacing the mg (milligrams) for the determination of vitamins. One IU corresponds to two thirds of a milligram.