Understanding Supplement Labels

by Kari Collett, RDN, LDN, CLT

A to Zinc Nutrition, LLC

There are an estimated 85,000 different supplement products on the market in the US today according to PBS.org. It’s an astronomical amount of product to sift through! No wonder people just buy whatever comes up first in their internet search or what the salesclerk recommends at the local supplement store.

But you may not be getting what you are hoping to get with that shopping and selection approach. You may, in fact, be getting products that don’t have the active ingredient advertised on the label or the product may have unnecessary added ingredients:  either known such as preservatives or unknown such as contaminants. Look for the product to have a cGMP stamp; this stands for Certified Good Manufacturing Practice. It means the facility where the product is manufactured follows quality processing practices.

It’s important to read the product label carefully. Is the product label making a reasonable claim? Or is it a statement that makes you think:  “Wow! This product could fix all my problems!” Just kidding, but not really. We’ve all read label claims that sound too good to be true. Don’t fall prey to purchasing supplements from companies whose primary objective is to make money vs. offering legitimate support for your health.

Be sure to read the part of the label that lists the active ingredient dosage. For example, if you need zinc as a supplement, the nutrition facts box will indicate how many mg is in each serving. The serving size will be listed just above the nutrition facts. It is vital to know this because you may need to take more than one tablet or capsule to reach the desired dose; if you do not take the required dose of the supplement, then you will not get the therapeutic benefit and will not fix the problem you are trying to solve. You also don’t want to take too much without understanding the potential side effects.

There’s no need to pay attention to the %DV (daily value); those are based on the government RDAs. The %DV is based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet – which is silly because almost nobody eats exactly 2,000 calories each day. Furthermore, the supplement serving size is based on a person who weighs 150# so you’ll need to adjust accordingly anyway.

Next, be sure to read beyond the nutrition facts label and into the ingredients segment. This is the part that most often gets skipped when scrutinizing the quality of a supplement. This is a prime example of when less is more no matter what the supplement is. Without a doubt, do not buy supplements with the following ingredients:

  • Food coloring
  • Soybean oil (except in rare cases and when no soy protein remains in the product)
  • Anti-caking agents
  • Preservatives or “freshness” additives
  • Added flavors

Navigating the current supplement market is too much for most people to comprehend. Don’t try to figure it out without professional input! For more information and assistance with selecting dietary supplements, contact A to Zinc Nutrition for a free consult.

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