How to Read a Supplement Label

by Melissa Chichester

Ever-evolving label and packaging changes on supplements can make reading labels confusing. There is a lot to take into consideration, including the daily value percentage, how much to consume per serving, how your supplement is manufactured, and what the supplement does for the body. There are key identifiers on every label that reveal useful clues about your supplement.

International Units, Milligrams, and Micrograms

Fat-soluble vitamins, including Vitamins A, D, and E, are measured in mg (milligrams) or mcg (micrograms). Water-soluble vitamins, including C vitamins and the B-complex group, are also measured in milligrams (mg) or micrograms (mcg). One milligram is the equivalent of 1000 micrograms.

Percent Daily Value

Percent Daily Value (DV) tells what percentage of the recommended daily intake for each nutrient for adults and children ages 4 and up is provided by the supplement. For foods that have an established Daily Value, the FDA permits claims called “Nutrient Content” claims, which are statements made to characterize the levels of any particular nutrients within a food or supplement. A symbol under the “Percent Daily Value” column and corresponding footnote indicates that a Daily Value is not established for that dietary ingredient.

Ingredients

The list of all ingredients includes nutrients and other ingredients used to formulate the supplement, in decreasing order by weight. What ingredients are listed first are the most abundant in the product. In some products, this is not necessarily the case, because proprietary blends do not always disclose ratios of their nutrients.

If ingredients are present in quantities of less than 2%, they do not need to be listed in order of predominance.
In this case, the statement “Contains less than 2% of:” is sufficient. These ingredients are considered inactive but play an important role in formulation generally serving as a technical function.

Suggested Use

This section instructs the buyer on how the supplement should be taken. This includes if it needs to be taken with a meal or even time of day in which something should be taken.

Manufacturer Name

The manufacturer’s or distributor’s name and place of business or phone number are required to appear on the label. If you are curious about where a product is manufactured or to know more about the company, check to see if they have a website with more information.

Storage

Supplements should be stored in a cool, dry place in their original containers, out of the reach of children and should be used before the expiration date. This is very important to ensure that you are taking supplements when they are at their freshest and most potent.

Actual Size

Many supplement bottles will have an icon that shows the actual size of the supplement, so you can determine whether or not it is something you can handle.

Certified Labels

Some supplement labels will include certified, distinguishing icons or seals appearing on labels. This may include USDA Organic, Leaping Bunny, Certified Gluten-Free, and Kosher icons or seals. If you are seeking out these features, look for their identifying features on the bottle.

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