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5 Secrets for Navigating Health Food Stores

Finding your way safely around a health food store is much like navigating a minefield. There are a lot of traps-hidden behind a lot of hype, misinformation, and outright ignorance-to be on the lookout for while trying to find useful products. To help you deal UCLA’s Dr. Mary Hardy dishes out some sage advice.

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Comparing amounts of active ingredients or number of doses can help you pick the best product for your money.

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1. Ask About Employee Training

1. Ask About Employee Training

The clerk behind the counter should know the difference between various forms of calcium, why liquid echinacea is preferred over tablets, and why you shouldn’t take kava kava if you have liver disease. But he usually doesn’t.  A Canadian study in which employees of 34 retail health food stores were asked what they’d recommend for a patient with breast cancer found 33 different products recommended, none of which had any significant research behind them. Only eight employees discussed the potential for drug interactions, and one actually suggested the patient stop taking tamoxifen (a proven cancer treatment). So ask about the clerk’s training (large chains say they invest in training) and don’t follow any recommendations if the clerk doesn’t at least ask about your health and other medications you’re taking.

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2. Don't Jump On the Bandwagon

2. Don’t Jump On the Bandwagon

If you’re being pitched a membership in a health food club, get out of there. Health food stores should be dedicated to helping you find the best remedy for your needs, not plying you with stuff you don’t need.

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3. Ask to See Third-Party Literature

3. Ask to See Third-Party Literature

If all you’re handed regarding the benefits of a supplement is literature from the manufacturers, you’re in the wrong store. First of all, manufacturers can’t make disease claims about their products (for instance, “improves fertility”). Second, you need some unbiased information. If the supplements don’t mention the brand name and come from experts not connected with the manufacturer, ask to see additional information.

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4. Do Your Research

4. Do Your Research

Don’t walk in looking for “something to help the pain in my knee.” At least know to ask for glucosamine.

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5. Read the Labels

5. Read the Labels

Compare the amounts of active ingredients and the types of ingredients in the supplement, dosages, and number of doses in the bottle. Such comparisons will lead you to the best value for your money.

Read more about healthy eating and natural remedies:

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