You enter that aisle of your local superstore, the one with bottle after bottle of vitamins, supplements and minerals with letters and numbers you hardly understand. You want to be healthy but how do you even know where to begin? Most of us are tasked with using nothing but the label on the bottle to make heads or tails of our choices. The Food and Drug Administration requires all vitamins and supplements to include a thorough ingredient fact list on the packing of the supplement. While this is great information for us to have, making sense of all of the ingredients and percentages can be mind-boggling. Here we will break down supplement labels to highlight the most important information for choosing the best supplement for you.
The Basics of Supplement Facts Panel Requirements
A nutrition label for dietary supplements is called a Supplement Facts Panel. The information that must be present on the panel includes:
- Serving size information
- Names and quantities of each ingredient
- Total calories, calories from fat, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron
- Dietary ingredients with no daily value must be listed by common name
- Amount per serving
- Percent daily value must be declared on all dietary ingredients
Keep in mind that dietary supplements do not need to present information regarding vitamins and minerals. This information is only required when the vitamin or mineral is added for the purpose of supplementation or if a claim is made about them.
The Ins and Outs of Label Content
The ingredient list must clearly disclose the ingredients contained in a supplement and must accurately outline the amount of each ingredient included. Any compound used in the manufacturing process is considered an ingredient. They must all be listed in descending order by their weight. Ingredient listings should also include the use of spices, natural and artificial flavors. This part of the label is probably the most important for us as consumers. It helps us to see not only what is in the supplement, but also to identify whether there are unwanted fillers and “extra ingredients”.
#2: Intended Use
The Intended Use Statement provides consumers with the information they need to understand the potential uses for the supplement. These claims must be based in accepted scientific evidence. By reading the intended use statement you can get a better sense of what this supplement is designed to do.
#3: Safety Information
Another important thing to look for is the safety information. Supplement companies are required to provide consumers with known safety information and potential hazards. These include possible interactions, contraindications, as well as side effects and adverse reactions. If there are any potential side effects the manufacturer must include a warning statement that is included prominently on the information panel. Steer clear of supplements with a long list of potential problems.
#4: Directions for Use
Once you choose your supplement how do you know how much to take? Directions for use are an important guideline that allows consumers to use a product properly and safely. These guidelines provide consumers with adequate directions for use, including proper doses and specifications to heighten effectiveness, such as taking with water.
The Ins and Outs of Label Presentation
There are also a number of guidelines for the presentation of the supplement label. Wondering why this is important for you? As a consumer of supplements and vitamins you should know how to quickly and easily gather the information you need to make an informed decision. There are a few standards for label presentation that can help you quickly make an informed decision.
Standardized Format: All labels must present similar types of information in a uniform order, using widely accepted terminology and headings. This gives you, the consumer, a quick and easy way to compare supplements.
Distinct Product Features: Supplement packages are required to have a unique design, format, and use language that helps consumers distinguish supplements from others products. This can help you look at a bottle and know where to find the information you need.
Readability: There are restrictions about what kind of wording and language is used, so consumers can easily understand the contents of the supplement and what they do in the body. This keeps companies from using industry jargon to cloud our opinions of the product.
Statement of Identity: These statements are used to identify a common name to describe individual items in the supplement. This information lets the consumer know what the supplements is designed to do. Without this statement you might not know whether the supplement is meant to help with cardiovascular health or serve as support during pregnancy. Each statement of identity must have the following elements:
- Use of the term “dietary supplement”
- Can replace the word “dietary” and use an ingredient name in its place. Such as “calcium supplement” or “vitamin B12 supplement”
- The statement of identity must be one of the most important features on the packing
- Must use bold type size and be more prominent than other features on the front panel of the label
- Must be located parallel to the base of the package
Net Quantity of Contents: This statement defines the amount of supplement in the container, in terms of either weight or measure.
By understanding these basic standards, consumers can use the information printed on packaging or bottles to understand each ingredient they are taking. Understanding what is on your supplement bottle with help you figure out what is in it.