According to a report by PR Newswire, 54 percent of American consumers consider themselves to be conscious shoppers. Definitions of “conscious consumerism” may vary from person to person, but in general, it means shopping with the awareness of the economic, social, or environmental impact of production. In more concrete terms, conscious consumerism means understanding what goes into the products on the market and how companies source and treat those ingredients. But conscious consumerism goes beyond awareness—it entails making purchasing decisions based on this information.
If you’re a regular supplement user and want to make more informed decisions about the products you buy, you need to know exactly how they’re made. But before diving into the supplement industry more specifically, it helps to review the sometimes confusing terminology used to market products.
When shopping in-store or online, it’s easy to take product marketing claims at face value. However, terms like “ethical,” “organic,” and “sustainable” may not mean what you think within the industry. When you come across any of the following labels, here’s what they mean:
- Ethical– “Ethical” refers to the moral and social consequences of the products you consume. For example, you can call a company an ethical brand if it doesn’t contribute to any form of animal cruelty.
- Organic– Organic food and supplements meet the highest standards without using chemicals, such as fertilizers or pesticides.
- Sustainable– Sustainably means reducing natural resource consumption and making consumer choices that consider economic, social, and environmental factors.
- Naturally-sourced– Naturally-sourced products are harvested in whole, unprocessed, and do not contain any additives.
- Pasture-raised– Pasture-raised animals get access to a pasture every day and consume most of their food as it grows in nature.
- Grass-fed– Grass-fed animals only eat grass and forages for the entirety of their lives.
- Free-range- Free-range animals must have some level of access to the outdoors.
Once you have a better understanding of these terms, you can investigate products on your own. Knowing these definitions can help you pick and choose which supplements to take, as many supplements are derived from animal or plant products and may bear these labels.
How It’s Made: 5 of America’s Favorite Supplements
While it’s relatively common for people to practice conscious consumerism when it comes to food, have you ever stopped to think about how your supplements are made? As discussed above, many supplements come from plant or animal sources; in turn, you should apply the same scrutiny to supplements as you do food if you want to be consistent. To illustrate the point, consider these five popular vitamins and powders that many Americans use to boost their health.
1. MCT Oil and Coconut Oil
Companies make MCT oil through a fractionation method that extracts acids from fats in coconut oil or palm oil. They target medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) through a chemical process.
Making coconut oil involves using fresh coconut meat and drying the residue or using wet-milling before extracting the oil with a screw press. Organic and unrefined coconut oil is mechanically produced without the use of chemicals and additional ingredients.
2. Fish Oil
Making fish oil supplements involves using a wet press on the tissue of oily fish such as herring, tuna, and mackerel. The fish is first cooked, pressed, and then decanted, where solids and liquids separate. The final process involves centrifugation, where a rotor spins at high speed and separates liquid and particles.
The final product includes oil rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which many people use to manage high cholesterol levels. If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, you’ll have to turn to plant sources naturally high in omega-3 fatty acids to get your daily dose.
3. Collagen Powder
Companies make collagen powder by collecting connective tissues, skin, and bones of pigs and cattle and submerging the materials in boiling water. This process extracts the collagen, which is then dried and ground, creating a water-soluble powder that quickly breaks down in the body.
If you have some reservations about collagen powder ingredients, consider buying from a collagen powder manufacturer that only uses the parts of pasture-raised cows and doesn’t add any hormones. You can also find vegan collagen made from genetically modified bacteria and yeast rather than animal parts.
4. Protein Powders
Many people use protein powders or bodybuilding supplements to boost muscle mass and improve performance during weightlifting. You can choose plant-based and animal-based proteins based on your consumer preferences. However, you should know that animal proteins often contain all nine amino acids, whereas most individual plan protein sources do not.
Companies make coenzyme Q10 through three methods: chemical tissue extraction, microbial fermentation, and chemical synthesis. If you eat meat, consider those with organic labels, and if you’re vegan, go for the fermented options.
Do Your Research and Check Labels
However you define conscious consumerism, the key to making the “right” decisions is research. If you want to expand your daily vitamin and supplement regimen, be sure to read up on how the products you’re considering are made, what labels to look for while shopping, and what they mean.