Shopping for supplements can be daunting. It's easy to fall for the fancy packaging and promising marketing claims. But when you turn the bottle around and examine the label, does it match up with the quality you expected at first glance?
We're no longer passive buyers. Consumers are now more health conscious than ever - paying more attention to exactly what goes into their food, and why. In fact, two-thirds of US consumers reported that food ingredients can influence their purchasing decisions (1).
In recent years, the term "clean label" has gained significant awareness in the food and supplement industry. But what does the term 'clean label' actually mean, and why is it important?
To help you better understand your food and supplements, we'll dive into the concept of clean label, discuss common additives and their drawbacks, and explore why people are increasingly choosing products with cleaner labels.
What is a Clean Label?
Essentially, clean label refers to a consumer-driven movement seeking transparency and simplicity in product labeling. Clean label products are those that contain minimal ingredients, and those ingredients are easy to recognize and understand. A clean label product is one that avoids the use of synthetic chemicals, artificial additives, and unnecessary fillers.
The increased demand for clean label products stems from several key consumer priorities:
Consumers want to know exactly what's going into the product they buy. They're seeking greater transparency about ingredients and production methods.
In supplements, consumers pay particular attention to the quality and origin of each ingredient, as well as the nutrient form used.
In contrast, they avoid proprietary blends, as it's difficult to determine if each ingredient is at the correct dosage for health benefits, and if any harmful hidden ingredients have been added in the process.
Health & Sustainability
Many consumers associate cleaner labels with healthier and greener options. They believe that products with fewer additives and artificial ingredients are better for their health and the environment.
Clean label products often have shorter ingredient lists, which some consumers perceive as a sign of simplicity and authenticity.
Supplements that contain a laundry list of ingredients are best to be avoided, as chances are, most of the ingredients have been packed in at tiny doses with negligible health benefits.
Look Out for These:
To understand clean label better, it's important to recognize some of the common additives used in the supplement world, and why it's best to avoid them:
Artificial colors are often added to make products more visually appealing. In most cases, they are an unnecessary addition. Mostly classed as carcinogens, these artificial food dyes have been linked to allergic reactions in adults, and hyperactivity in children (2,3).
Next time you're shopping for a supplement, watch out for any of these artificial colors on the label:
- FD&C Blue No. 1 - Brilliant Blue FCF, E133
- FD&C Blue No. 2 - Indigotine E132
- FD&C Green No. 3 - Fast Green FCF, E143
- FD&C Red No. 40 - Allura Red AC, E129
- FD&C Red No. 3 - Erythrosine, E127
- FD&C Yellow No. 5 - Tartrazine, E102
- FD&C Yellow No. 6 - Sunset Yellow FCF, E110
Preservatives extend a product's shelf life. In supplements, they may be added to maintain freshness and prevent chemical changes. However, consumers are choosing to avoid preservatives as they have been shown to exert negative health effects and increase the risk of chronic diseases (4). Instead, they are more likely to prefer products with natural preservatives or shorter shelf lives.
Avoid these artificial preservatives, and opt for preservative-free supplements instead:
Fillers and Binders
These substances are often used to bulk up products or hold them together. They can dilute the product's nutritional value and may be unnecessary. In supplements, binding agents are used to form tablets. This is why it is always best to opt for encapsulated supplements, as they mostly contain the highest amount of actives per dose.
Common binders found in low-quality supplements include:
Artificial sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, are added into supplements to enhance sweetness. However, they come at a cost. Continued intake of artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of developing certain diseases (5).
Although artificial sweeteners are commonly used, our body does not recognize or process them in the same way as sugar. In abundance, certain artificial sweeteners can be broken down into proteins that can be converted into toxic compounds.
As an alternative, it is always best to opt for supplements with natural sweeteners, such as stevia, monk fruit or honey.
Why Clean Label Matters:
Consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious and are taking a more critical look at the products they purchase. Here are some reasons why you should choose clean label products:
Health and Wellness
Cleaner labels often equate to healthier products with fewer potential side effects or health risks.
Recognizable ingredients are seen as more trustworthy. It's important to know exactly what you are putting into your body with full transparency from the products you buy.
Allergies and Sensitivities
Some individuals have allergies or sensitivities to specific additives. Clean label products are often safer choices.
The production and disposal of artificial additives can have environmental consequences. Clean label products are often the greener choice.
Clean label products are often associated with authenticity and a commitment to quality over quantity.
Clean Label Project:
The Clean Label Project certification is only awarded to products that pass the strictest standards set by Proposition 65. This regulation is in place to ensure consumers are protected from toxic chemicals and contaminants which can make their way into food production.
At Performance Lab®, we are proudly Clean Label Project certified, meaning that our products are free from harmful contaminants.
The clean label movement reflects a growing consumer desire for transparency, simplicity, and healthier product options. As we continue to prioritize our health and well-being, it's likely that the demand for clean label products will rise. Clean label isn't just a trend; it's a reflection of our changing values and priorities.
- Food dyes: A rainbow of risks (2010). https://cspinet.org/sites/default/files/attachment/food-dyes-rainbow-of-risks.pdf
- Walczak-Nowicka ŁJ, Herbet M. Sodium Benzoate-Harmfulness and Potential Use in Therapies for Disorders Related to the Nervous System: A Review. Nutrients. 2022 Apr 2;14(7):1497. doi: 10.3390/nu14071497. PMID: 35406109; PMCID: PMC9003278. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35406109/