This may come as a shock, but many of your ‘healthy’ supplements have a lot in common with ultra-processed foods. Here’s how to spot how ‘clean’ your supplements are, and the brands to buy if you want to be a savvy shopper

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You may be polishing your health halo as you pop your multivitamin, but – shock! - what’s in your supplements may not always be good for your health. It’s not the vitamins and minerals per se that we’re talking about, but all the other stuff that manufacturers don’t shout about. Stuff that helps them, not you. Stuff that glues all the ingredients together to make a neat-looking pill, that makes a tablet look shiny-white and ‘clean’, or simply bulks out a capsule.

None of it benefits your health. In fact, the opposite can be true. In small amounts (say, if you only take one or two supplements), these fillers, glues, binders, preservatives, colourants and artificial flavour enhancers (known in the trade as ‘excipients’) are unlikely to cause issues. “But,” says nutritional therapist Ify Akpuaka, “if you take lots of supplements, the total concentration of excipients can escalate, and you must be mindful of that.” Tablets and gummies are the worst offenders, as we’ll explain.

Take magnesium stearate, for example. Sounds healthy, right? Especially when you know many women are deficient in magnesium. But it has no nutritional value and it’s just there to make the supplement mix flow smoothly through the factory machinery without sticking to it. In the body, however, too much of it can have laxative effect.

We’ve become eagle-eyed when it comes to unnecessary ingredients in our food and cosmetics, but we’re still pretty useless at assessing how ‘clean’ our supplements are. And, unfortunately, it appears the verdict is: not very.

According to supplement company Viridian’s new ‘No Junk’ report, 70 per cent of us aren’t able to recognise ‘junk’, inactive ingredients that are of no use to the body.

If you want to delve deeper , the Viridian Dejunk Your Life Report will give you plenty to chew over, with 25 common ingredients to avoid. (Our editorial director Victoria Woodhall recently took a deep dive into this subject with Aimee Benbow, Viridian's head nutritionist - see her Instagram Live below.)

Here, we highlight five ‘red flag’ offenders to help you shop your supplements wisely. We’ll also tell you which forms of supps – powders, capsule, gummies – are least likely to contain junk, and we highlight ‘clean’ supplements brands we rate – we’ve done the hard work for you.

The top 5 junk ingredients to avoid

1. Magnesium stearate – no good for your magnesium levels!

Magnesium stearate is not a source of good-for-you magnesium. In fact, it contains no magnesium at all. But you’ll find it in the vast majority of pill and capsule supplements on the market. It’s a popular ‘flow agent’ (or anti-caking agent) helps the supplement mix move fluidly through factory equipment – and your body, if you get our drift. Spotting a little bit at the bottom of the ingredients list is fine, but swallow a lot and it can actually stop your entire supplement from benefitting you. “The supplement will pass through you without being absorbed,” says pharmacist Pupinder Ghatora of Ingenious Beauty.

Not only can it hamper absorption of actual nutrients, it can “negatively affect the gut microbes in your digestive system and is associated with allergic reactions,” says microbiologist and registered nutrition practitioner Dr Carol Granger.

Rice flour is an alternative ‘flow agent’ that’s harmless to the body, but most manufacturers favour magnesium stearate as it’s very cheap to formulate with.

Flow and bulking agents cannot always be entirely avoided, even if they’re of no use to the body. Sometimes, Granger explains, the amount of active compound needed for a supplement is so small, you need something to bulk it out in order to be able to make a pill or capsule at all. This tends to be the case with vitamin D, for example.

Biologically useful carriers and flow agents do exist and are obviously the best choice for your health: Viridian use alfalfa powder, which has some nutritional benefit.

2. Carrageenan – the seaweed that doubles as a glue

Also known as Irish Moss, carrageenan is a seaweed extract so on the face of it, it should be pretty healthy. It’s used as a gelling agent, stabiliser and thickener – so check your gummies and liquid supplements. Unfortunately, it’s been shown to mess up digestion, set off inflammation, cause ulcer formation and increase levels of blood sugar and glucose intolerance. Those with bowel disease should stay clear. Vegetable gums such as Guar and Xanthan gum have similar functions and cause digestive issues as well.

3. Titanium dioxide – the whitener that prolongs shelf life

This is a mineral that makes tablets look nice and white (it’s also found in medicines and foods like coffee creamer and icing) and prolongs shelf life; it’s often listed as E171. But in 2022, it was banned as a food additive (which would include supplements) by the European Commission (but not in the UK or US). That’s because of concerns the particles can build up in the body and damage DNA (which could lead to cancer).

4. Talc - the controversial whitener

Talc has been in the news because industrial-grade talc can be contaminated with impurities and even asbestos, so it may shock you to find that it’s used as an anti-caking agent and tablet ‘whitener’ – it’s most often found in tablet supplements. According to Granger, talc can in some people cause fever, dizziness, chest pain and fainting. according to Granger.

However, despite much hoo-hah on social media, there is no proven cancer link or risk of contamination with asbestos for cosmetic and dietary talc. These are highly purified and not, like some sources like to claim, banned in the EU, nor the UK.

5. Sweeteners and sugars – not so sweet in your supps

Sorbitol, mannitol, maltiol and sucralose are all artificial sweeteners and they can all lead to gut problems such as cramps, bloating and getting the runs when you take too much of them. They are not just in fizzy drinks and ‘diet’ snacks, but in gummies, drinks and powders.

Stevia and xylitol are both highly processed forms of low-calorie plant sugars that are less associated with gut discomfort than other artificial sweeteners.

Sucrose, dextrose and glucose syrup also feature in the more ‘yummy’ supplements – of course, they’re just plain sugar.

The artificial sweetener aspartame is the worst offender of the lot, found in plenty of gummies, drinks and flavoured powders to make them more palatable. It can actually increase obesity and diabetes, while there are studies that link its use to cardiovascular disease, dementia and cancer.

List of ingredients in ultra processed vitamins. Image: Viridian

Tablets, capsules, gummies or drinks: what is the ‘cleanest’ form of supplement?

  • Capsules are better than tablets

Apparently, about 50 per cent of your average tablet consists of glues or binding agents, says Granger. “Tablets need more ingredients exclusively for manufacturing and stability reasons than capsules,” she explains. Your body needs to work harder to break them down and they absorb more slowly and break down more inconsistently. Capsules, meanwhile, don’t need to be ‘bound’ or compressed like tablets, and need fewer whiteners as we don’t expect them to be clinically white like tablets. That’s why they are easier to make with fewer, or with ‘healthier’, additives, and this often makes them easier to digest.

  • Be wary of gummies

To get those pleasing Haribo colours and flavours, health gummies are more often than not packed with either sugar or artificial sweeteners, colourants (some, like cochineal, can cause allergic reactions) and gelling agents such as carrageenan (which can cause digestive problems in large quantities). If you really want candy, it would be a lot cheaper to get a bag of pick ‘n mix.

  • Choose powders over liquid supplements

Those handy single-dose liquid sachets that collagen and electrolyte brands are so fond of  can be exceptionally ultra-processed. They are often full of flavours and sweeteners because the ‘natural’ taste of liquid collagen in particular, which after all is made of fish or animal cartilage and skin, is hard to stomach for most. “Preservatives and carriers can also lurk in liquid supplements in order to maintain product characteristics or shelf life,” adds Granger;  ascorbyl palmitate and potassium sorbate are two preservatives she has singled out in the Viridian report’s list of ‘undesirable 25’ additives.

Powdered supplements, whether in sachets or big tubs, less often feature artificial taste enhancers, as you’re supposed to mix them yourself with a drink or yogurty breakfast that’ll mask their natural flavour. On top of that, “powders can often be produced without excipients and with minimum processing (although this does limit their shelf life),” says Akpuaka. Therefore, they often win out over their liquid counterparts when it comes to avoiding ultra-processed supplements.

  • Oils or tinctures can be a clever choice

If your supplement contains water, it will need a preservative but, says Granger, this is not the case if it’s oil or alcohol-based: “those supplements are they are naturally stable.” Oil-based sprays  and drops such as Viridian Vitamin D3 Spray, £21.50), or alcohol-based drops and tinctures such as Cytoplan Organic Elderberry and Vitamin C, £22.60 are a good choice. You’ll have to mind the use-by date to ensure the oils don’t go rancid (they are best consumed within six months of opening), but you can extend shelf-life, says Granger, with natural antioxidants. “Some fish oils, for example, have a bit of rosemary oil added as a natural preservative.”

For planet-preserving reasons, it’s always good to avoid palm oil on the ingredients list: it’s one of the world’s greatest contributors to deforestation.

What are the best supplement brands for avoiding ultra-processed formulas?

The below brands aren’t just scrupulous about leaving out ultra-processed ingredients, they are also strong on ethics and environmental credentials. This is particularly important because nutrients that are sourced from polluted environments can be packed with dangerous contaminants, transforming a ‘healthy’ supplement into quite the opposite.


Ticking all the boxes, Viridian supps are nutritionist-formulated and based only on nutrients that are backed by peer-reviewed human research. Contents are 100% active (so no junk and no inert fillers) and 100% ethical (scrupulously sourced, no animal testing, and packaged and manufactured responsibly). This British company is independently owned, so no shareholders lurk in the background asking to cut corners.


Image: Cytoplan

Charity-owned, this organic company use wholefood and food-state nutrients – “meaning in their active, most bioavailable forms, easily recognised and absorbed by the body,” says Akpuaka, who’s a fan. The brand use minimal excipients and perform their own extensive analysis for residues on every batch of their plant-based products. Some of their products proudly feature a ‘biodynamic and superfood blend’, which is especially rich in phytonutrients and active compounds, thanks to being biodynamically farmed.

Wild Nutrition

Having worked for some of the biggest supplement companies in Europe, nutritional therapist Henrietta Norton wanted to create a brand she could 100% recommend and founded Wild Nutrition and its concept of ‘food-grown’ supplements – which pack nutrients purposely grown in pastes of the highest-quality wholefoods. Free from filler ingredients and supremely bio-available, nutrient levels in the brand’s products are often lower than those of synthetic equivalents as they are far more efficient and better absorbed. Like the other brands featured here, Wild Nutrition is a British company, which matters as UK and EU production standards are a lot higher for supplements than those in most other countries.


Up-to-date science and Eastern medicine combine to deliver evidence-based supplements and nutrition programmes with a distinctly chic edge. Founder Rhian Stephenson is a nutritional therapist, naturopath and ex-athlete whose belief in pure nutrition extends to the quality of her supplements, which feature proven nutrient levels and no unnecessary excipients. A B-Corp company and partnered with Provenance to ensure a positive impact on people and planet, the packaging is ‘endlessly recyclable.”