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What’s The Source Of Your Supplement?

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By: Kristen Johnson, Registered Dietitian at On Target Living

The Source

“Foods closest to the source will be the most flavorful and delicious.”

Now let’s take a look at the “source” of these popular supplements below. The “food source” is also know as the ingredient list.


Price: $129.95 for Vanilla 24 Single Serve Packets ($5.41/drink)

Shakeology is a “healthy” meal replacement shake that requires you to simply add water to the powder and mix.

Healthy? I’m not so sure. What is healthy about this long list of “proprietary” ingredients? First of all, anything that says “proprietary,” I tend to stay away from. If I am paying money for a specific supplement or food product shouldn’t I know exactly what’s in it? Propriety blends don’t allow for full transparency and you are usually left asking yourself “what’s the source of this product?”

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As you can see, this supplement contains a lot of ingredients some of which are whey, enzymes, and lots of ingredients most of us can’t pronounce. Since whey is the first ingredient listed–it means the majority of this supplement is made up of whey. Because whey comes from a cow, whey and dairy products in general, tend to be very acidic in nature and can be hard for the body to breakdown and absorb. When the body is to acidic, it has to use buffering minerals to bring pH back into acid/alkaline balance. These buffering minerals include calcium, magnesium, iodine, and potassium. Overtime, this causes us to become deficient in these minerals leading to poor bone health, trouble sleeping, difficulty losing weight, and abnormal heart function.

Digestive enzymes are needed to breakdown the food we eat and can help us to absorb essential nutrients. The digestive process starts in the mouth when we chew which is why it is so important to chew (EAT) our food. The body has a hard time recognizing isolated or synthetically made enzymes found in supplements and food products (like shakeology) since enzymes work most effectively when they are in their whole food form. Check out this apple as the perfect example.


When you bite into an apple, it is sweet, sour, juicy, and crunchy. It is right from the source (tree) and is super flavorful and nutritious. From the first bite, your mouth is instantly flooded with mouth-watering digestive enzymes helping you to breakdown that food. As you continue eating the apple, you may notice that it starts to brown. This is called enzymatic browning and occurs when live digestive enzymes are exposed to air. This is the reason why fresh fruits and vegetables rot. They are full of live digestive enzymes that help us to digest our food. Want to know the number one way to improve digestion, bloating, elimination (pooping), and nutrient absorption? Chew your food and consume more live foods. (Foods that will rot if you let them) And, avoid dead foods that don’t contain any live enzymes like packaged/processed foods.

Yes, you may see kale, goji berries, flax, quinoa and other foods in this shakeology ingredient list. However, even if the manufacturers were literally throwing in whole blueberries, and fresh kale, there is still quite a lot of processing that goes into making this into powder form. Therefore, these ingredients are not whole foods we are consuming. Which makes you wonder how close to “the source” these foods really are and what processing was involved in making these items fit in this packet of powder? How long would it take for this packet of powder to rot? Nutrients in products like these tend to be degraded by heat, pH changes, light, and oxygen to increase shelf life which can reduce their effectiveness in the body.

On top of the above proprietary ingredients, other ingredients include: Non GMO Fructose, Natural Flavors, and xanthan gum.

Fructose is the sugar naturally found in fruit. However, this fructose listed will be in it’s isolated form. Ideally, fructose should be consumed in it’s whole fruit form for optimal digestion and absorption. Because fruit will naturally be a good source of fiber, this allows the fructose to enter the blood stream more slowly, helping to manage blood sugar naturally.

Xanthan gum is made from processed corn sugar and is used as a stabilizer to thicken foods. (Usually found in salad dressings, sauces, and beverages). Studies show that consumption of xanthan gum can contribute to poor gut health leading to digestive and immune issues.

The definition of natural flavor under the Code of Federal Regulations is: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products.” Which means the “natural” raspberry flavor in our yogurt could come from a beaver’s anal juice. (No joke!)

If products are truly natural and are truly healthy for the body, then why wouldn’t the manufacturers come out and say exactly what those “natural” things are? Why hide behind the word natural? Then why would a carrot not have a label that says “natural?” It’s because we trust food from the source (food in their natural state).

Is Shakeology safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers?

“Shakeology should only be taken by pregnant women and nursing mothers under the direction of their physicians.”

Anytime I see this on a label I stay clear. If I can’t consume this while I am pregnant–a time where I should be getting the best quality nutrition, why should I take it when I am not pregnant? Seems a bit odd don’t you think?

Here’s another thought. McDonald’s is a company that has all of the money and resources in the world to test the safety of their products. However, they don’t even include a warning label on their products that states it is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women. Which means, McDonald’s is safer than shakeology? Yikes! Is our food system messed up or what?

Rather, than pay $129.95, why not just make your own smoothie using a mixture of fresh vegetables and frozen fruit? Throw in a little fresh ground flaxseeds, almond milk, coconut water, nut butter, and voila! Right from the source, nutritious, and delicious.

And if you feel that this may take too much time, it may be make your health a priority. Making your health a priority is your first step to getting healthier. With a little thought and planning you may find that this “daunting” task doesn’t take much time at all. Getting healthier is about incorporating a lifestyle that is healthy, fun, and repeatable. You may even find that cooking more is not only quite fun and rewarding, but is also a fantastic way to connect with your loved ones. Food is not just about convenience and flavor–it is the story behind food that is so magical. Setting a good example is also the first step in getting your kids healthier. Prioritize your health, because after all, you only get one body and one life.

Protein Powder

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Similar to the above description of shakeology, this product includes a long list of ingredients some of which are not real foods. This product also contains a lot of “vitamins” and “minerals.” The problem with this is that many vitamin and mineral supplements or additives are manufactured synthetically with chemicals and do not come straight from their natural sources. They are made to mimic the way natural vitamins act in our bodies. However, there is no substitute for real vitamins and minerals we get from natural whole foods that are closest to the source. The Organic Consumers Association emphasizes that isolated vitamins cannot be used or recognized by the body in the same way they can when they are in their natural food state.

More than 95% of all the vitamin supplements sold today fall in to the synthetic category. These include nutrients from vegetable, animal or mineral sources. But before making it into the supplement bottle, they undergo significant processing and refining. Also, when a vitamin is marked “natural”, it only has to include 10% of actual natural plant-derived ingredients. The other 90% could be synthetic.

In addition, you never quite know how these synthetic ingredients are being made or where they are coming from (the source). Most companies state that these synthetic ingredients are derived from natural sources. Natural sources and natural flavors quite frankly, don’t mean much and can be derived from virtually anything. Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients.

Even if you aren’t popping vitamin supplements each day, if you consume fortified foods (think cereals, milks, breads, meal replacement shakes, protein powders, etc.), it’s nearly impossible to avoid synthetic vitamins.

Rather than pay for expensive protein powder, why not include a healthier protein source that is much easier to digest and absorb? Hempseeds cost about $0.98 a serving and can be found at most any grocery store. They can be added to cereal, oatmeal, salads, or smoothies.

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What is melatonin used for? What is the source of melatonin supplements?

Melatonin is our sleep hormone and is essential in helping the body to relax and fall asleep. Melatonin is used to treat issues relating to sleep and can help to adjust people’s sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin supplements are synthetically made in a lab. (Which means a lab is it’s source)

As mentioned above, synthetic made supplements tend to be hard for the body to use effectively. Because melatonin is naturally produced in the body, melatonin supplements can disrupt the bodies ability to produce melatonin.

Rather than just treating your symptoms, why not not target your problem at the source? Ask yourself why you may be having trouble sleeping in the first place? Are you stressed, do you watch too much TV (stimulating blue light) before bedtime, are you planning your sleep/wake cycle by going to bed and waking up around the same time each day? Are you moving your body on a daily basis, are you eating healthy, are you drinking enough water?

The number one way to stimulate melatonin naturally is to get outside and expose yourself to natural white light. Natural white light or sunlight stimulates the pineal gland, which regulates this sleep hormone. During the day melatonin levels are low but as nighttime approaches and darkness sets in melatonin levels rise preparing our bodies for sleep. Exposing ourselves to stimulating blue light like computers, cell phones, tablets, and TVs can cause our body to associate this with daytime, lowering melatonin levels, making it hard to fall or stay asleep.

Want to stimulate melatonin naturally? Get outside!



Rather than take a pain medication that can cause your body to become depleted in precious minerals–target your pain at the source. Usually pain stems from inflammation and inflammation stems from the body being overly acidic. Focus on eating alkalizing foods that can help balance pH like fruits, vegetables, ancient grains, and superfoods. Drinking mineral water is also an easy way to balance the body’s acid/alkaline balance.

Natural Pain Remedies

Try using turmeric as a natural way to treat pain. Whether you are adding turmeric root in tea form or using turmeric spice in cooking, it’s been shown to lower inflammation and reduce pain.

Several recent studies show that turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, improves digestion, and contributes to a healthy immune system.

Turmeric is also used in Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine to treat arthritis. Since arthritis is inflammation of the joints, try improving joint health with cod liver oil.

Nordic Naturals Bottle Image

Cod liver oil is a healthy omega 3 fat that is especially helpful at lubricating the joints and reudcing inflammation. If you experience arthritis or joint pain–cod liver oil will be one of the most beneficial superfoods to consume. Aim for 1-2 tbsp. each day.


Another natural pain remedy is epsom salt.

Epsom salt is high in the calming mineral, magnesium and can be used to treat muscle soreness, aches and pains. Magnesium helps to relax skeletal muscles by flushing lactic acid buildup in the muscles and has been shown to enhance vitamin absorption and improve circulation. Add 2 cups to a bath or use 1 cup for a foot soak.


Whether you are taking iodine supplements or using a synthetic form of the thyroid hormone to improve thyroid function and metabolism, it may be best to incorporate natural iodine rich sources in order to stimulate the thyroid hormone naturally.

Eden_sushi_noriSea vegetables are extremely high in iodine which is necessary to support the thyroid gland.

Sea vegetables also help neutralize an acidic diet and balance blood pH by purifying and cleansing the blood helping to keep the body mineralized. Sea vegetables also contain 10 times more calcium than milk. Sprinkle sea vegetables on salads, cook in soups, or use as a wrap. Add sea vegetables into your diet 1-2 times per week. Varieties include wakame, kelp, kombu, nori, arame, and dulse.



SpirulinaAnother good source of iodine needed for healthy thyroid function and metabolism is spirulina/chlorella.

This fresh water algae is also super high in chlorophyll and helps to build the immune system, detoxify the body and improve digestion. Aim for 10-20 tablets a day (swallow, don’t chew).





Take- Away

The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics (AND) recommends that the best nutritional strategy for optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to choose a wide variety of whole foods.

Instead of buying expensive and ineffective supplements, spend your hard worked dollars on the things your body can truly use and benefit from. Supplements and medications can cost you much more than simply just eating foods in their whole form. If you are looking to get healthier–there is no quick fix or magic pill. The key is to eat a diet full of healthy foods (superfoods) and incorporate a lifestyle full of proper sleep and daily movement. Which is why resting, eating, and moving make up the perfect package.

Of course when you combine these three things you may lose weight and see results but it’s more about the way these things make you feel that is so powerful. There is no supplement that can provide you with the same feeling you get from a great night’s sleep, nutritious food, or a sweat driven workout session. Make your health a priority and the benefits are sure to follow!

Remember to ask yourself “what’s the source?” before taking any new supplement or multivitamin. Always look at the food source or ingredient list in order to identify whether a product is healthy and contains real foods. Of course, fresh fruits, vegetables, lean/grass-fed meats, wild caught seafood, and bulk grains/seeds/nuts will not include an ingredient list or have a nutrition label. Why? Well, it’s because these items are directly from the source, contain one ingredient, and are therefore naturally healthy options. #thesource

“Get your beauty sleep, eat your superfoods, and workout for fun!” -Kristen