How To Read Supplement Labels
You do your research in order to choose the best supplement for your needs. But while research will help you know what you’re looking for, it takes label-reading skill to make sure what you discovered through research is actually in the bottle.
Some supplement labels misrepresent what’s inside. However, the majority of supplement labels give you a good idea of the contents. NOW®, in particular, has been an industry pioneer in implementing true labeling standards, making sure what’s on the label is in the bottle.
The Supplement Facts Label
To make it easier for you to find the label features we’re talking about here, we’ve put together a handy diagram.
Here’s a quick guide for understanding how to interpret supplement labels in order to get exactly what you’re looking for.
The first section of the label is the supplement facts label. This section gives you the nutritional breakdown of the product.
Supplement Facts Label Section 1: Serving Size
The supplement facts section starts with serving size. This is an important reference point. Every bit of information listed below this is based on this serving size. So if the serving size is one softgel, for example, two softgels will give you twice as much of each ingredient as what’s listed in the supplement facts label.
Supplement Facts Label Section 2: Calories
This section is not found on every supplement, only the ones that contain fats like fish oil, for example. This section shows you how many calories are in each serving. And it shows you how many of those calories are from fat.
This section also breaks the fat content down into what kinds of fat – saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, trans fats, etc. The amount of cholesterol is also noted in this section.
Supplement Facts Label Section 3: Key Ingredient Potency
Here is where you’ll see the key ingredients listed along with their amounts per serving and percentage of daily value if applicable (see below).
Sometimes you’ll notice one ingredient will be bolded. Listed below it are nutrients found in this ingredient.
For example, you’ll see Fish Oil Concentrate bolded at the top with an amount per serving shown. And then below it you’ll see the fish oil broken down into the different nutritional components of fish oil – first by omega-3 fatty acids and then by the more specific sub components, EPA and DHA.
This breakdown allows you to evaluate how potent certain ingredients are. You can see how much of an important nutrient is in the ingredient used.
Some products list only the total amount of a proprietary blend of ingredients. While the manufacturer has to list the ingredients in this blend, they do not have to list the amounts or ratios of the specific ingredients found in the blend.
The Percentage of Daily Value In Supplement Labels
In both the section on fats and the section on key ingredients, you’ll see there are two columns of numbers.
The first column in this section tells you the amount of different kinds of fats in each serving. This is usually indicated in milligrams (mg), micrograms (mcg), grams (g) or international units (IU).
The second column tells you what percentage of the daily recommended amount or daily value (%DV) this amount of a given nutrient or ingredient is.
It’s important to keep in mind a couple things when looking at the percentage daily values (%DV):
These recommended daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your age, health status and activity level, your ideal diet may vary from this amount.
In general, 5% DV or less is considered low in that nutrient. If a supplement contains 20% DV, or more, of a certain nutrient it is considered high in that nutrient.
Many ingredients or nutrients will not have a number listed in the percentage daily value column. This is because the US FDA has not made an official recommendation for how much of this nutrient you should have in your diet. It doesn’t mean they are not good or even necessary to have in your diet. Simply that the diet recommended by the US FDA does not include these nutrients.
Supplement Facts Label Section 4: Additional Ingredients
Ingredients that are not key to a supplement’s nutritional benefits – like the ingredients used to make gel capsules, fillers, binders, etc. – are listed in this section.
Here is where you will also find any allergens listed, as well as any warnings about potential allergen cross-contamination. Be aware that while manufacturers are required to list any allergen ingredients, they are not required to note if there is a potential for cross-contamination due to sharing manufacturing facilities. NOW does alert customers to potential cross-contamination, even though it is voluntary.
Additional NOW Supplement Label Features You Should Look For
In addition to the supplement facts section, a few other features on supplement labels can help you assess a product and make the best use of it.
Some of these are standard for the industry. Many of these are labeling innovations unique to NOW.
We want to make sure the label gives you all the information you need to make good purchasing decisions and to use our products effectively and safely.
The suggested usage section tells you when to take a supplement, how many to take and how best to take it (with a meal, with fats, on an empty stomach, before bed, etc.)
When applicable, NOW labels include FDA-approved qualified health claims.
The functional description tells you more about how this supplement and its ingredients support health.
Cautions alert you to any ways the supplement may cause discomfort or adverse reactions.
The storage conditions section tells you how to store the supplement in order to maintain its effectiveness and freshness.
The actual size diagram shows you the size of the supplement. If you’re concerned about swallowing large pills, this will help you decide if this specific supplement will work for you.
The health function category and the structure/function claim on the front give you a quick reference point for deciding how this supplement can help you stay healthy.
The formula information section gives you a quick read on what distinguishes this formulation.
The GMP logo is our assurance that our supplements are not only made according to the current FDA good manufacturing practices (cGMPs), they have also gone through an additional level of oversight. They are GMP-certified by a third party certification organization, the Natural Products Association.