Learn to read supplement labels with these tips

A nutritious diet that helps fuel your body for optimal health and well-being is often the best way to get the vitamins and nutrients you need. But even with the best diets, supplements may sometimes be needed to fill vitamin, mineral, and other nutrient deficiencies.

Dietary supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and are therefore plentiful on the market. Pharmacy and grocery store shelves are lined with a buffet of supplement choices — so many, in fact, that it can be hard to figure out which one to choose and why. The best way to narrow down selections quickly is to learn how to read supplement labels and compare the labels with your needs. And in addition to helping make your selection process much more efficient, learning how to read supplement labels can help reduce the chances of taking a supplement you don’t need or shouldn’t have.

This article breaks down the need-to-know for navigating dietary supplement labels.

How to read dietary supplement labels

You will find the supplement information label on the bottle or box of the supplement. Below, we’ve covered each area of ​​a dietary supplement label so you know what to look for when evaluating your options.

To illustrate, we looked at one of the best multivitamins for menOne daily multivitamin for men.

One A Day Men's Multivitamin Supplement Information

Screenshot by Caroline Igo/CNET

Suggested Use and Serving Size

The suggested serving size is usually located at the top of a supplement’s label. For example, if you are reviewing multivitamins which come in tablet form, you may see “Serving Size 1 Tablet”. The serving size is located at the top of the label because all of the supplement facts listed below are based on that specific multivitamin serving size.

Suggested Use is also in or near this same area and indicates how and how often to take the supplement. For example, “Take one tablet twice daily with food.”

Additional facts panel

The supplement information panel is usually located just below the serving size. This is where you’ll find a breakdown of important details like the number of calories and macro and micronutrients (if any) per serving, such as fat (including types of fat), protein, carbs, cholesterol and vitamins.

A glance at the supplement information panel shows you exactly which vitamins and nutrients make up this multivitamin for men and how much of each it contains. For example, if your doctor has recommended a multivitamin containing potassium, you will quickly see that this particular vitamin does not contain potassium and may not be the right choice for you.

Percent Daily Value

Also located on the supplement information panel is the Percent Daily Value. This number represents the percentage contribution of a nutrient in a single serving of the dietary supplement given to your daily diet, according to the FDA. However, the daily recommendations are based on a calorie intake of 2,000 for adults, so yours may vary depending on your calorie intake, age, and whether or not you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Using the same men’s multivitamin as an example, you can see that the supplement contributes 100% of the daily vitamin A requirement for a man who eats 2,000 calories per day.

Ingredients

Ingredients are usually listed under the supplement information panel. They include the ingredients used to make up the vitamins and nutrients, but also anything else used to make the supplement.

In our multivitamin for men example, you will see calcium carbonate listed as the first ingredient. So if you had a question regarding the type of calcium that makes up the 210 mg listed in the Supplement Facts, this section gives you that answer – calcium carbonate.

Expiration date

The FDA does not require expiration dates on supplements, but does require that if one is listed, it be backed up with specific data. However, they have not yet defined the required data and therefore many supplement labels will not include an expiration date.

If you see an expiration date on a supplement label, that is the date until which the manufacturer guarantees that the rest of the label is accurate. In other words, there is no guarantee of the effectiveness of the supplement after expiration.

Precautions and Warnings

Do you have food allergies? Or maybe you are taking other medications that could interfere with this supplement. The cautions and warnings on the supplement label are where you would look to find this information. You should also check this section for known side effects and how to deal with them if they occur. For example, many supplements advise you to consult a doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding or taking other medications that may not work well with the supplement.

Things to Consider When Reading Supplement Labels

Person pouring pills into his hand from a bottle.

Getty Images/Thana Prasongsin/Moment

We’ve covered all the main sections of a supplement label and how to read them, but there may be additional details that are important to you. Let’s break them down too.

Pill size

If you have no problem swallowing pills, you might not be interested in this. But, if you are someone who has trouble taking pills, this section is a great way to avoid wasting your money or having to cut pills. Somewhere on the supplement label, there is usually a full size representation of the supplement. This allows you to see the size of the pill you are going to swallow before you buy it.

Verifications

The FDA may not regulate dietary supplements, but it’s always important to seek verification on your choice of supplements. These help ensure that the products you take have been tested and verified for things like purity, potency, stability, and disintegration. Some of the checks to look for include:

Storage conditions

Supplement storage conditions may not be high on your list of concerns, but poor storage conditions can quickly degrade the quality and effectiveness of your supplements. Let’s say you have a cabinet in an unconditioned space (like say most garages) where you store your supplements. Most supplements will be negatively affected by humid or hot conditions.

On the supplement container, you will find a section advising consumers how and under what conditions to store the supplement.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

About Margie Peters

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