With thousands of nutritional supplements on the market today, how do you choose the best ones for you? With each new "got to have it" product that comes out, how do we sort through the maze of facts vs. fiction?

Every day I receive emails or phone calls asking me what I think about a new supplement or health drink that an exciting new company has come out with. How do I evaluate these new products?

Let me give you some guidelines that you can use to evaluate the majority of these yourself. There are some key principles you want to follow when looking at a nutritional product.

Your Supplements Checklist

Here are 7 screening principles you can use to separate the beneficial from the non-effective. Those products passing through these screens are worth taking a serious look at. If they don't pass one or more of these, they could be ineffective, overpriced, harmful, or all of the above.

1. The adage "first do no harm" applies here as the most important rule.

Does the product contain any potentially harmful ingredients? This may sound strange since the goal of these products is to improve your health, but it's true that some contain minerals like arsenic, aluminum, tin, nickel, and toxic ingredients like alcohol. Minerals can build up in the body and cause negative effects, so it is important to get the right ones in the right quantity. Balance with other minerals and vitamins is important as well.

When evaluating herbal supplements, extreme caution should be used, as a "drug-effect" is taking place and should be treated accordingly. Many prescription drugs are derived from "natural" ingredients. Just because they are from nature and not man-made doesn't mean they are harmless.

2. Does it contain substances that have no proven benefit?

Many times a "new" ingredient is included that has supposed fantastic benefits, but it is so new that there is no documentation yet that it works. Testimonials are abundant and the research is on the way. If you want to get the benefits now, you can start today. They make you feel like you are the smart ones to jump on the bandwagon early. At best you will be wasting your money. At worst, you could be causing harm to your body.

3. Is the supplement imbalanced in its quantity of ingredients?

If it contains vitamins and minerals, they must be in proper balance in relation to each other, or they may not be absorbed and bioavailable; or harmful effects could occur. There are a myriad of interactions between vitamins and minerals which need to be in a natural balance, not a man-made quantity. A tip-off here is when looking at the percentages of the RDAs listed in the ingredients, if you are getting 1000+% for one and 25% of another.

4. Is the supplement comprehensive in its scope?

In other words, does it include everything you need, or is it incomplete? If you need a single nutrient for a specific deficiency, this is the exception. But as a rule for general health improvement, the product should contain a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and "phytonutrients"--other nutrients contained in foods with newly discovered benefits--so as to be comprehensive. Many companies purposely include a few selected nutrients in each product so you will need to buy many of their supplements for each specific need. On the other hand, some products throw in too many things all mixed up together, some of them in such small quantities--so as to be virtually ineffective.

5. Does the supplement contain "whole foods" or food concentrates which are the closest to the nutrients from foods in nature?

Many studies have now shown that isolated vitamins and minerals by themselves do not give the same benefits as whole foods. This could be due to the imbalance this may cause or because they are not including the thousands of newly discovered "phytonutrients" which are synergists occurring naturally in whole foods.

Technology today allows supplements to include a concentrated "essence" of food nutrients containing the natural balance of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients contained in the original foods. Those supplements which contain these are the closest to providing all of the vital nutrients we need in the proper balance and form for absorption and usage by the body.

6. Important question! Is there any research on the actual product (not a selected ingredient) showing positive benefits in the human body (not rats)?

Is it good research: independent (not done by the company who makes it), randomized (not a hand-picked group), double-blind (nobody knows who got what until the study is over), crossover (switch who gets what and see if results follow), which is published in peer-reviewed scientific journals (real science which is acknowledged by peers and reproducible)? That's a LOT to ask for and will screen out most supplements!

7. Does the company that makes the supplement make fantastic or unbelievable claims about their product? If you see the words "miracle," "cure," "amazing," "ancient remedy," "secret formula," and testimonials about diseases that were cured, red flags should go up immediately.

Prescription drug manufacturers may claim to treat or cure diseases, but supplement manufacturers may not. Supplement manufacturers can only claim to help the structure or function of organs or parts of the body, or to reduce risk for a getting a disease or condition (not prevent, treat, or cure).

So if a supplement company makes these inappropriate claims, you can be sure these claims are either not true, illegal to make, or both. The integrity of the company is in question, which puts their product quality or effectiveness in question as well.

Use these 7 keys to choosing the best supplements. You will avoid the dangerous and ineffective ones, and be assured that the ones which pass will be the most safe and effective available.

Remember, supplements aren't a replacement for eating the best foods. Choose and eat the most nutrient-dense foods you like that are available, then use supplements to bridge the gap between your best efforts at eating better, and reaching optimal health.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Roy Vartabedian, specialist in disease prevention/health promotion, holds a Doctor of Public Health degree. His New York Times Best-Seller, Nutripoints, has been used in 13 countries in 10 languages worldwide. Check out your diet with his free Nutripoints QuickCheck at Nutripoints.com. Follow me on Twitter at Twitter.com/Nutripoints.