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Supplements: Don't always believe what you see

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Supplements are now a staple of the American diet. In 2011, CNN reported that half of Americans use supplements, with multivitamins being the most popular. A 2009 Consumer Reports article states Americans spend $14.8 billion a year on supplements and herbal remedies. These numbers are staggering; begging the question, are people getting their money's worth?

Unfortunately, the answer is not always. Many supplements are very beneficial. Others, though, do close to nothing. Worse, some aren't even healthy.

Let's take a look at some things to look out for when purchasing supplements.

Beware of unrealistic claims: If the claim is too good to be true, it probably is. If there are pictures showing dramatic improvements in short periods of time, watch out. The 2008 documentary Bigger, Faster, Stronger outlined some tricks of supplement ads. The before and after pictures may not actually be quite that. In fact, the pictures may even be from the same day. Its amazing what a little spray tan, air brushed abs, and standing up straight can do. Or, the photos may simply be digitally enhanced. Lastly, always read the fine print in these ads. You will probably notice the statement “results are not typical.”

Make sure your vitamins actually give you what you think you're getting: Often times, the vitamins we take are flushed down the toilet, literally. If it doesn't dissolve all the way, it leaves the body without being absorbed. Place your vitamin in a glass of warm water. If it dissolves, you have a good one. If it doesn't, or has little pieces at the bottom, FLUSH. No, really, you're actually flushing the vitamin down the toilet. Buy vitamins that are from a green source, or created from fruits and vegetables. These are your best bet for quality and absorption.

Check the ingredients: If a sugar or artificial sweetener is at the top, or near the top of the ingredients list, look elsewhere. Titanium dioxide is used in sunscreen. Do you really want to ingest that? Look for as many natural ingredients as possible, and avoid supplements with a lot, or even any, words you cannot pronounce.

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