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When Is It Time to Throw Out Expired Supplements?

Tempted to give your supplement cupboard a shake out, to throw away anything that has expired? Before you toss out hundreds of rands of unused products, you might want to consider these facts first.

Categorising supplements

When deliberating on the validity of the expiry date on your favourite whey, pre-workout or fat burner, it is important to distinguish between the types of products you’re likely to find in your supplement cupboard.

Supplements are generally classified as nutraceuticals, a portmanteau of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical”. The term encompasses products that range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and herbal products, and processed or functional foods.

Pharmaceuticals, on the other hand, are classified as drugs used to cure, treat, or prevent disease. These could include scheduled prescription drugs and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. As many of these products may be required to save your life, it is important to adhere to expiry dates as active ingredients may no longer work in the intended manner past their expiration date. Most shouldn’t be toxic past that date, though.

What to keep

Expiration dates on nutraceuticals generally serve as a guideline for how long a product, particularly its active ingredients, remains potent and effective. These dates are also often required to comply with various food labelling and good manufacturing practice (GMP) requirements and legislation. It is not necessarily indicative of the true shelf life of the product.

As such, expiration dates on supplements merely indicate the last day the manufacturer can guarantee a product will be at its highest level of potency as the vast majority of ingredients in supplements degrade and decompose gradually over time.

In general, then, expired supplements such as whey, amino acids, pre-workouts and fat burners are still okay to take after their expiry dates.

In terms of vitamins and minerals, it is worth noting that certain products will degrade at a more rapid rate than others. Minerals, for instance, will last longer than vitamins in pill form. Other products, particularly live probiotics and digestive enzymes, will have a much shorter shelf life than vitamins, minerals and supplements – we’re talking months versus years. However, if they are past their expiry date, they shouldn’t pose any health risks.

When to toss

A caveat to this advice is if mould has developed in a powder or solid form product. If you find any in the tub or bottle, chuck it out immediately as this could make you sick.

Liquid-based supplements will also degrade more rapidly, particularly fat-based products such as essential fatty acids, oils, or fat burners like conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which are generally available in capsule form. Pure liquid form products can also become rancid when are oxidised and exposed by light. Accordingly, these should not be used after their expiry date, especially if they have not been stored correctly.

You may also find that the flavour of a whey protein or meal replacement powder changes over time. This happens because the flavouring system is usually the first component that degrades. Therefore, if you find that a tub of chocolate-flavoured whey, for instance, is no longer palatable, you can throw it out, but that does not mean it is bad for your health in any way.

Lasting longer

You can extend the shelf life of most supplements by storing them in a cool, dry place. This means a kitchen, which experiences varying temperatures and humidity from cooking, or the bathroom, are not suitable locations for your products. For more sensitive products such as live probiotics, enzymes and fish oil or liquid-based supplements, a fridge is often the best place to store them. Always read the label to determine the best storage methods to prolong the life of your products, even after its expiry date.

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