By Michael Lelah, Ph.D., Technical Director, NOW Foods
What are Grade and Quality? What's the difference between Grade and Quality? How does it affect our choices for dietary supplements?
Let's first try to understand Grade and Quality in a different context. Let's use the automobile industry as the example. A high grade of car is one that has lots of features and benefits. Lexus and Mercedes are examples of premium grade car brands, while Hyundai is an example of a lower grade brand. We're not talking quality here, we're talking standard features such as stability control, antilock brakes, moon roof, etc.
Now let's look at quality. Mercedes used to have an extremely good reputation for quality, but that has slipped in recent years. Many Mercedes models have had electrical problems and brake problems. These are quality issues. So Mercedes is a great example of a brand with high grade cars but (today) some quality problems.
The opposite has happened with Hyundai. Although a lower grade of car, the quality of Hyundai has risen. Their 100,000 mile warranty has helped, but the cars are also being made well. So Hyundai is an example of a lower grade brand with higher quality. Does this make sense?
Now let's try to superimpose these concepts on dietary supplements. Let's use some examples. CoQ10 is a great first example. This popular supplement can be manufactured synthetically using chemicals and solvents, or it can be fermented from natural sources.
The synthetic source results in a mixture of two chemically different forms - the cis and the trans form. The fermented CoQ10 makes only the trans form. In our bodies, the only (natural) form is the trans form. Not only is fermented CoQ10 derived from natural sources, it is also in the natural form. So, the synthetic form is lower grade and the fermented form is higher grade. NOW Foods only sells the natural form - the higher grade.
Now let's look at the quality of CoQ10. If the label says 60 mg CoQ10, I can purchase a bottle and send this for analysis. If the result comes back showing 60 mg of CoQ10, then I can safely say that the bottle I purchased is high quality. However, if the result comes back with only 53 mg, then this product is of poor quality. This product actually would fail to meet label claims and would also fail to meet GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) requirements and FDA regulations. So in this case, quality relates to the amount put in the bottle, but grade describes the form of the ingredient. NOW Foods CoQ10 is both high grade and high quality.
Let's look at another example. Fish oils are either filtered or molecularly distilled for purity. Filtered fish oils are safe and meet FDA limits for heavy metals such as lead and mercury. Molecularly distilled fish oils are extremely pure and have virtually no heavy metals. So molecularly distilled fish oils are high grade while filtered oils are medium grade. Both are acceptable. NOW Foods sells both kinds.
Let's jump to the quality of the fish oils. There are a few aspects of quality worth considering. Fish oils contain DHA and EPA – good essential fatty acids. The quantities of these components are on the label. As was true for CoQ10, if an analysis of EPA/DHA content fails to meet the label claim, then the fish oil is of poor quality no matter what the grade. Another aspect of quality is whether the fish oil has a strong or weak fishy smell and taste. Rancidity is one factor that would result in a poor tasting/smelling oil. NOW Foods fish oils are of high quality - we meet our label claims and we have products that taste and smell good because they are fresh.
I hope this has given you an appreciation for the differences between grade and quality. Maybe the next time you look at brands or products, you will ask yourself questions regarding the grade and the quality, knowing that these can be quite separate things.