“Other Ingredients” listed on the label – What are they?

You may have noticed “Other Ingredients” listed on the label under the Supplemental Fact panel of some supplements. What are they, and why are they in my supplement?

 

First, I think it is important to understand a little bit about the manufacturing process to help you understand why other ingredients may be used.

 

All capsules, tablets and ready-to-mix products (proteins, pre-workouts, greens drinks, etc. which are powder products designed to be mixed with water or juice and then drunk) start as combinations of various powdered nutrients which are then blended in a very specific ratio (the formula) from which the finished products are made.

 

Capsule Making Process

Capsuled products are powders which are placed into empty capsules for easy consumption. The challenge lies in getting the powder into the capsule shells.

 

This process requires that the powder flows at a consistent, predictable, controllable rate into the capsule shells. This is critical in making a quality capsule that meets design specifications.

 

To understand flow a bit, take a look in your pantry at home and compare white sugar to brown sugar. White sugar is usually very easy to pour and flows consistently with no clumps. Brown sugar, on the other hand, is a real problem. Clumps and chunks. Forget about controlling the flow.

 

White sugar, though, is not always so consistent either. Increase the humidity and you’ll have clumping and flow issues as well.

 

Another manufacturing challenge we encounter is stickiness (not a great technical term – but gets the point across).

 

If you ever made bread or cookies you’ll know that the batter can get very sticky, and you have to put flour down on the counter or your hands to keep it from sticking. While we deal with powders and not batter, there are some powders that can stick to various parts of the manufacturing equipment, or bind to other ingredients, creating clumps. This leads to many issues, including inconsistent weights.

 

Tablet Making Process

Tablets are similar to capsules in that they start as powders, but are a bit different in that there isn’t a capsule shell into which the powders are added. Instead, the powders are compressed under very high pressure in molds to form the tablet.

As anyone who grew up with snow in the winter knows, you can’t make a snowball out of any kind of snow. Some snow compacts nicely, other snow just crumbles and won’t hold its shape. That’s the same issue with making tablets – not all powders can be compressed to form a good tablet. So, ingredients are added to allow a tablet to maintain its form throughout manufacturing and shipping to your home or store (unless you like opening a bottle of your favorite supplement and finding pieces of tablets and powder).

 

 

 

Ready-To-Mix Products (stick packs, sachets, etc.)

Flow is very important here as well in order to deliver a consistent weight to the canisters, stick packs, or sachets.

 

Other Ingredients Commonly Found in Capsules, Tablets and Powders

 

“Other ingredients” are ingredients which do not provide any nutritional benefit, but which are required in order to aid in the manufacture of a quality product – also known as manufacturing aids, excipients, binders and fillers.

 

Flow Aids

As the name implies, flow aids are added to make sure the powder flows at a consistent, controllable rate, whether for capsules, tablets or ready-to-mix products. The amount used will vary depending on the issues encountered, but is usually the lowest amount needed to get the desired result (often as little as a few milligrams per capsule).

 

Examples of typical flow aids are:

    • Corn starch
    • DiCalcium phosphate
    • Microcrystalline cellulose
    • Silicon dioxide
    • Magnesium stearate
    • Vegetable stearate

 

Lubricants

Lubricants are used primarily to prevent powder from sticking to the equipment, but also improve flow.

 

Typical lubricants are:

    • Corn starch
    • Glyceryl behenate
    • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
    • Microcrystalline cellulose
    • Silicon dioxide
    • Stearic acid
    • Magnesium stearate
    • Vegetable stearate

 

Binders

Used primarily in tablets, binders are compounds that are added which help to keep all the ingredients together when making a tablet (think snowball).

Typical binders include:

    • Dicalcium phosphate
    • Glyceryl behenate
    • Hydrogenated vegetable oil
    • Microcrystalline cellulose
    • Stearic acid
    • Vegetable fatty acids
    • Starch
    • Maltodextrin
    • Acacia gum
    • Glucose
    • Alginic acid

 

Fillers

Often when formulating a capsule we will find that there is excess space available in the capsule. This can lead to weight inconsistency during manufacturing. Plus, excess space

can make the capsules look very empty (not a good look). So, fillers are added to take up the extra space.

 

Fillers also add bulk to tablets when the active ingredient dosage is small, making it easier to consume.

 

Typical fillers include:

    • Rice flour
    • Lactose monohydrate
    • Calcium carbonate
    • Microcrystalline cellulose
    • Plant cellulose

 

Capsule Shell

Capsule shells are typically either animal-based or vegetable-based, and are chosen based on various parameters as determined by the formulation and application. The ingredients for the capsule shell are seen in the Other Ingredients section of the label as:

    • Gelatin – animal-based and typically derived either from bovine or porcine collagen (or both), or marine (fish sources)
    • HydroxyPropyl Methyl Cellulose (also shown as HPMC or Hypromellose) – a vegetable-derived compound used for capsule shells.

 

Coatings

Most tablets have some sort of coating applied to the outside of the tablet.  This material is applied for a number of different reasons: to mask taste, to aid in swallowing, to protect the tablet from environmental conditions, to prevent the tablet from breaking down in the stomach and to arrive in the intestines intact before disintegrating (also known as enteric coating – used for things like probiotics), to help stabilize the structure of the tablet and even to add color.

 

Coatings are applied in a liquid form and then dried to leave the coating material (kind of like painting).  The liquid carrier for the coating is usually either water-based or solvent-based.

 

Coatings include:

    • Sugar
    • Film
    • Gelatin
    • Shellac
    • Zinc oxide
    • Cellulose acetate phthalate
    • Hydroxypropylcellulose
    • Polyethylene glycol
    • and many others

 

Other “Other Ingredients” – usually found in ready-to-mix products

 

Sweeteners

Ready-to-mix products (i.e. those designed to be mixed with water or juice and drunk) include things like proteins, greens drinks, sports supplements, etc.

 

These products frequently require some level of flavoring and/or sweetening to make them more palatable.

 

There is quite a variety of sweeteners available:

    • Cane sugar
    • Sugar
    • Fructose
    • High fructose corn syrup
    • Sucrose
    • Sucralose
    • Stevia (several versions)
    • Monk fruit
    • Sugar alcohols (erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol)
    • others

 

Flavors

Flavor is a very important consideration, and getting it just right can be a challenge (after all, no one is going to re-buy a product if the taste is bad).

 

There are many flavor manufacturers around the world, and they all have their own versions of flavors. Flavors can be very, very complex (many flavor producers will offer several dozen versions of vanilla for example!).

 

The variety of flavors can be extensive as well – from common (vanilla, chocolate), to sweet (grape, punch, watermelon), to exotic (kiwi, dragon fruit, pomegranate), to savory (beef, chicken), and on and on.

 

There are three basic types of flavors:

• Natural – flavors derived from all-natural sources
• Artificial – flavors that are chemical blends that mimic a natural flavor
• Natural and Artificial combinations (N&A) – a combination of the two (obviously)

 

There are advantages and disadvantages to each:

    • Natural flavors are much more expensive than and not as intense as artificial flavors – so, much more of the expensive flavor has to be used to achieve the desire taste. Also, the shelf life on these flavors can be relatively short.
    • Artificial flavors will usually create the desired flavor easier and more intensely than natural flavors – so less flavor can be used to achieve the desired results. That, paired with these flavors being less expensive than their natural counterparts means that you will find artificial flavors used in many consumer products (the use of artificial flavors reduces production costs). The shelf life is also usually substantially longer with these flavors
    • Natural & Artificial flavors (often referred to N&A Flavor on the label), as you would suspect, are a combination of the two, and have the qualities of both: cost and effectiveness somewhere between the natural and artificial versions, as well as a slightly increased shelf life compared to natural.

 

Colorants

Colorants are typically used for ready-to-mix applications for aesthetic purposes and don’t provide any benefit or aid in the manufacturing process.

 

They provide a color to the product that closely matches the expectation based on flavor – i.e. orange or yellow for citrus flavors, reds or pinks for fruit punch flavors, purple for grape, etc.

 

Colorants can come in natural and artificial or synthetic versions as do flavors. Artificial colorants usually offer a much wider range and much more intense color palette than do natural colorants.

 

Colorants derived from natural sources include:

    • Beet root powder
    • Beta carotene
    • Annatto
    • Paprika
    • Turmeric
    • Spirulina
    • Blueberries
    • Tea
    • Cocoa

 

Artificial or synthetic colorants include:

FD &C (Food Drug and Cosmetic Act) colors

      • These include a very wide range of colors and dyes used in foods, some of which have been found to have negative health impacts and have been removed from the market over the years.
      • May be referred to by common names (i.e. – Tartrazine for FD&C Yellow 5, Sunset Yellow for FD&C Yellow 6, Indigotine for FD&C Blue 2).

 

The label should refer to the source of the color as either natural or derived from natural sources – and include the source – or as artificial and note the source as well.

 

In a follow-up article we will discuss these “Other Ingredients” and how they relate to a term of growing interest for many – “Clean Label”.

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