We often hear people toss around their reasons for taking or not taking a supplement, whether it be a protein powder, super food, omega-3 fish oil, or multi-vitamin, based on their understanding of FDA approval. Nine times out of ten, the information we hear is inaccurate. Hopefully this post explains FDA approval when it comes to supplements.
The FDA does not “approve” any supplement or food.
The FDA merely sets guidelines for labeling and standards for safety, and maintains an online database of foods they have approved as safe for human consumption. All upstanding supplement and super food companies meet or exceed these guidelines.
The FDA maintains a database called the FDA GRAS approved list. GRAS stands for “Generally Recognized as Safe” and if something is GRAS approved by the FDA, it is as close to being a “FDA approved food” as you are ever going to get.
Here is an example of where it gets confusing when it comes to FDA approval and supplements. The super food spirulina, which some may consider a supplement, is GRAS approved. This means that spirulina is a food, not a supplement, because the FDA only provides GRAS approvals for food, not supplements. A supplement company or a sales person may allude to FDA approval of their product(s), intentionally or unintentionally misleading a consumer, who then goes on to spread that misinformation.
Most supplements are safe, but safety cannot be determined by FDA approval. If the “supplement” is recognized as a food by the FDA, then it may be found on the GRAS list.
Keep in mind the GRAS list also includes many food additives, preservatives, chemicals and colorings, that many question as being safe. So as always, buy from trusted sources, and from companies and manufacturers that specialize in what they sell. This will ensure that when you need a question answered about quality, purity, and safety, you will get accurate answers.