While working on the floor of our vitamin department, I am often asked what brands we currently sell that are kosher.
Vitamins can contain various ingredients that are problematic in terms of their kosherness. Furthermore, varying religious authorities often hold very different opinions about whether or not vitamins even need to be kosher at all. Some of the more lenient rulings consider vitamins to be medicine, and therefore are not required to carry a hechsher (Kosher certification). Some Rabbincal authorities have argued that if a vitamin is swallowed and not eaten, it is permissible. Others have said that the vitamin should be thrown to the back of the throat and then swallowed. Others say that if ingesting a chewable vitamin it should have a hechsher.
Religious authorities have stated that a person whose life is in danger or who has health problems that have been attributed to vitamin deficiencies, or pregnant and nursing women who have been advised to take vitamins, may also take non-Kosher vitamins if an equally effective kosher vitamin is not readily available. Otherwise, someone who is in good health and takes vitamins as supplements or for prevention purposes should preferably take vitamins that have a reliable hechsher.
If a vitamin or supplement does not have a hechsher, and you are trying to determine if it is kosher, look for items that are certified vegan and vegetarian instead. While we strive to offer several brands of kosher vitamins here at Erewhon Natural Foods Market, like Bluebonnet, Flora, Megafoods, Country Life, Solgar and many others, if we cannot find you a certified kosher vitamin then we can offer you a vegan substitute instead.
Remember though that though a vitamin may have only kosher substances in it, many are not suitable for Passover, as they contain products derived from grains. When in doubt, if you are concerned and wish to only consume kosher vitamins and supplements, always buy those vitamins that have a certified hechsher.
Additional Questions and Answers About Kosher Vitamins
How Do I know Which Vitamins Are Kosher?
There are various different Orthodox Jewish communities that act to oversee how products are made to insure that they contain nothing that would be deemed not kosher.
If a bottle contains a hechsher (Rabbinic Kosher stamp of approval) on its label then it has been granted kosher approval by the governing body that grants the hechsher.
What is a Hechsher?
A hechsher is a symbol you can find on products such as food, vitamins, and wine that tells you that the product has been inspected and found to be kosher by a religious governing body. Once a hechsher has been granted, the food or supplement is considered permissible for consumption.
Who Grants Hechshers?
Various different Orthodox Jewish communities have governing bodies that oversee the granting of hechshers. And on many nutritional supplement labels, you can find various types. The most widely recognized hechsher in the United States is the hechsher of the Orthodox Union based in New York City. Additional hechshers have been granted by Star-K of Baltimore Maryland. KOF-K is an internationally recognized hechsher that has regional coordinators in major cities through out the world. The New Square Kashrus Council, meanwhile, is based in New York. For more information about the types of hechshers and who grants them, we recommend people check out the web site http://www.hechshers.info/
Why Do Vitamins and Supplements need a Hechsher?
Vitamins can require hechshers because many of the products that might be contained in vitamin tablets and capsules are not kosher. These include gelatin made from unkosher animals, enzymes made from unkosher animals, fat soluble vitamins, and glandulars from animals as well as products made in factories that also process unkosher food and supplements. The manufacturing of vitamins can be a problem because many vitamins come from unkosher animal sources.
Do All Vitamins Require a Hechsher?
The problem with vitamins is that some actually do contain non-kosher products. Aside from gelatin, some vitamins are attained from non-kosher animal sources. Examples of this would be Vitamin A, that is advertised as “Natural” or “Retinol” and has been acquired from animal liver, or vitamin E that may be derived from animal fat. Vitamin C can be a problem during Passover; because the process of making synthetic vitamin C requires a substance called sorbitol that is a corn derivative.
I Heard Somewhere That Vitamin D is not kosher; is this true?
Vitamin D is produced naturally on the surface of the skin by sitting in the sun. This happens because the substance 7-dehydrocholesterol is irradiated by exposure to sunlight’s UV-B rays converting it to cholecalciferol, more commonly known as vitamin D3. However, because most people spend much of their time indoors, and use sunscreen to protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun’s rays, many people have become seriously deficient in D vitamins. Thus supplementation with vitamin D is often necessary. In fact, I would say, speaking as a doctor, that this is one of the most important vitamins for us to supplement.
Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) is the form of vitamin D preferred most; it is the type best utilized by the body. It can also be made synthetically from lanolin, a by-product of sheep’s wool, that is acquired when the wool is processed. Since lanolin is excreted by a live animal, and was mistakenly thought to be animal fat, some rabbinic authorities recommended avoiding it. This is because it is forbidden by Jewish law to consume the flesh of a live animal. However, in recent years it has been ruled that since vitamin D is actually an excretion of the skin, it is therefore permissible. There are now several vitamin lines that carry vitamin D3 and have been granted a hechsher. Vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol) is less easily utilized by the body, and is derived from mushrooms and so is considered a vegan supplement.
What about Digestive Enzymes?
Some digestive enzymes are acquired from animal tissue. They are not kosher. However, if they are plant derived then this problem can be avoided and there are many plant-based enzyme products on the market that have hechshers. Currently, we sell Enzymatica brand Digestive enzymes; they are certified kosher.
I hear that Glucosamine and Chondrotian Are Good For the Joints, But They Are Made From Shellfish. What Can I take Instead?
I have, as of yet, not found a vegan source for Chondroitan, it is normally produced from the shells of shrimp. There is far less evidence of the benefits of Chondroitan then Glucosamine, and the good news is that there are several sources of vegan Glucosamine sulfate. Clinical research on the health benefits of Glucosamine sulfate reveal that it has been found to be beneficial in the treatment of joint pain at doses of 1000mg-3000mg a day.
If you have any more questions about kosher supplements you can speak to me, Dr. Whimsy, the in-house naturopathic doctor, or any of our qualified staff to find out more.