Get to Know the Tricky 12: Widely-Used Bad for You Ingredients HUM Nutrition Avoids

Wondering what ingredients to avoid in supplements? We made it easy for you by developing our Tricky 12 list of ingredients we always formulate our supplements without. Read on to learn why these ingredients could pose health risks and should be avoided.

You probably give a lot of thought to what’s in your supplements—vitamin D to support your immune system and mood, a probiotic for balanced gut health, maybe an ashwagandha gummy to help manage stress. But what’s not in your supplement is just as important. 

Many vitamin and supplement manufacturers use fillers, artificial ingredients, and chemicals to reduce cost and to make products that appeal to the senses, whether that’s the look, taste, or smell of the product. Supplements also contain other ingredients that help with the manufacturing, stability, and appearance of the finished product, explains HUM Nutrition’s VP of Scientific Affairs and Education, Jennifer Martin-Biggers, PhD, MS, RD. “These other ingredients are often very necessary and serve key functions to make sure powders don’t clump, pills don’t crumble, capsules don’t smell, just to name a few,” she says.

While not every extra ingredient found in your supplement is inherently bad, several pose health risks. “Some ingredients that may be used for these functions don’t have a great scientific track record,” Dr. Martin-Biggers explains. At HUM Nutrition, we consciously choose to formulate without certain ingredients—the Tricky 12—that we think are bad for you and are often banned in other countries or do not meet our standards of safety and quality. 

How HUM Developed the Tricky 12

clean supplements

“We carefully evaluated our products and the types of ingredients we wanted to exclude to create our Tricky 12 list,” says Dr. Martin-Biggers.

If there is any doubt about the safety of an ingredient, we formulate without it. We believe it is our responsibility to ensure that only good-for-you ingredients are in the supplements you consume.

For that reason, we never formulated with things like titanium dioxide, for example, which is currently banned by the European Union.

“We are also committed to scientific research and standards to ensure the safety and efficacy of our products above and beyond what is considered basic requirements in our industry,” says Dr. Martin-Biggers.

(Psst: You won’t find ingredients like gluten, dairy, or other allergens on this list. We conduct separate testing for these through independent lab testing to ensure those are not found as contaminants in our products. You can always find this info listed on our website. All of our products are also Clean Label Project-certified, so they’re rigorously tested for contaminants like lead, mercury, and glyphosate.)

HUM Nutrition’s Tricky 12

If you’re looking for a specific list of ingredients to avoid in supplements, these are the ones we skip when making all of our vitamins and supplements.

1. Titanium Dioxide

Titanium dioxide is frequently used by supplement manufacturers to make pills or capsules appear whiter. However, in 2021, the EFSA published an opinion deeming titanium dioxide unsafe due to concerns of genotoxicity following a safety evaluation of titanium dioxide, especially as it may accumulate in the body. They noted that based on the evidence, there are many uncertainties and concerns about titanium dioxide to warrant its removal from safe use in foods. The ingredient has since been banned for use in the entire European Union.

2. Artificial Colors

All colors added to foods are specifically approved by the FDA, including synthetic and natural color sources. However, in a 2022 peer-reviewed publication, researchers found that Red 40, a dye popular in supplements and other foodstuffs, has the potential to directly disturb your gut microbiome and hormone production. Additionally, a 2013 toxicology review of nine artificial colors in that group showed health concerns varying from cancer-causing activity and hypersensitivity reactions to genotoxicity, or DNA or chromosomal damage, which includes birth defects. The review also identified an absence of independent testing and regulatory protocols to assess the safety of food dyes. We choose not to formulate with these, but if you’re looking at labels for other products, steer clear of these names: FD&C Blue No.1, FD&C Blue No.2, FD&C Green No. 3, Orange B, Citrus Red No. 2, FD&C Red No. 3, FD&C Red No. 40, FD&C Yellow No.5, and FD&C Yellow No. C.

3. Artificial Preservatives

Food preservatives are also specifically approved by the FDA, but we skip them. A scientific review of popular artificial food additives, including preservatives, found that non-nutritive additives can have adverse health effects including weight gain and altered gut microbiota.

4. Artificial Sweeteners

When it comes to artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame-K, and neotame, there is a lack of consensus in the scientific literature regarding the safety and benefits of using artificial sweeteners. Previously studied benefits of artificial sweeteners have been invalidated or challenged by recent research that links artificial sweeteners to adverse health effects, including impaired gut health.

5. Artificial Flavors

Similar to artificial preservatives, research has shown the potential for negative health effects of artificial flavors. Luckily, if you’re reading the back of a label, artificial flavors are easily spotted: Any flavors that are not listed as “natural flavors” or have the designation of “natural” are artificial.

6. High Fructose Corn Syrup

There is a lack of consensus in the literature regarding the safety of high fructose corn syrup, a sugar-based sweetener, but the research on sugar is clear: consuming too much added sugar is linked with weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure, and more. The CDC recommends consuming less than 10 percent of your total daily calories from added sugars on a given day.

7. Hydrogenated Oils

When you hear about “bad fats,” this is what should come to mind and why we avoid hydrogenated oils, which are frequently used by manufacturers to keep ingredients fresh. A 2020 meta-analysis from the American Heart Association of nine observational studies and 10 randomized controlled trials confirms the link between trans fat (the main source of fat in hydrogenated oils) and increased risk for heart disease.

8. Talc

Talc has long been used as an ingredient in the cosmetic and supplement industries. Some research has linked talc to an increased risk for certain cancers, however other studies have not found the same link. In 2018, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) re-evaluated its opinion on the risk for neurotoxicity from talc and magnesium silicate. They determined that the safety of talc and magnesium cannot be assessed due to a lack of reliable data. Because of the inclusive research, it’s best to avoid this ingredient.

9. Magnesium Silicate

As mentioned above, the EFSA has stated the data on the safety of magnesium silicate is not reliable. To play it safe, we don’t use this ingredient.

10. EDTA and Derivatives

EDTA is an acid that’s often used as a medication to treat metal toxicity. Unless this is prescribed by a doctor for a specific health concern, it should be avoided in supplements. EDTA and its derivatives are able to bind to heavy metals, which can result in mineral deficiencies in important nutrients like zinc and have toxicological side effects, such as renal toxicity. 

11. Shellac

Nope, we’re not talking about the nail polish! In the supplement and pharmaceutical world, shellac coating for soft gel pills is made from the secretions of the parasitic lac insect. Ew? Enough said! Most of our products are vegan, and we like to keep it that way.

12. Pharmaceutical Glaze

While the term “pharmaceutical glaze” might sound innocuous, it can contain up to 51 percent shellac. It can also contain titanium dioxide, which does not need to be disclosed on labels.

Be on the lookout for these ingredients the next time you’re shopping for supplements and foods. Learn more about the clean and clinical differences behind HUM’s vitamins and supplements or shop our products that contain clinically-tested actives.

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