Do you ever check the Nutrition Facts panel on foods at the grocery store? It’s a great way to make sure you're getting the nutrition you want… and nothing you don't. Well, you can do the same with supplements! Dietary supplements are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The FDA classifies a dietary supplement as a vitamin, mineral, herb, or other substance that’s consumed in addition to food. It’s something you take to supplement your diet. And you can find out a lot about a product and its ingredients just by taking a few minutes to read the label.
First, Check the Benefits
A dietary supplement label usually has a front panel, called the Principal Display Panel, as well as a required Supplement Facts panel. Start by reading the front of the label. How can this product benefit you? What are the key ingredients mentioned? Does the formula line up with your health goals? Does it match your personal values, like avoiding GMOs or buying more organic? You might want to take different supplements at different times of year, or on workout days or travel days. Knowing the benefits of each supplement can help you plan and adjust your regimen. You can talk to your healthcare professional about how to choose the best supplements for you.
What is a Supplement Facts Panel?
To gain more in-depth information about the product, turn to the Supplement Facts panel on the side or back of the container. This is very similar to the Nutrition Facts label you’ll find on food items. Checking the Supplement Facts panel helps make sure you’re getting the most out of your supplements, from active ingredients to serving size to % Daily Value.1
Components of a Supplement Facts Panel
Like a Nutrition Facts label, a Supplement Facts label has standard sections that list important information. These sections are your friends and have a lot of the information you need to understand your supplement!
Serving Size and Ingredient Amount Per Serving
The FDA labeling standards require companies to list serving size, active ingredients, and measurable amounts of ingredients on the Supplement Facts panel. The serving size is the amount of the product you would take at a time—such as 1 tablet. The amount per serving, listed under serving size, indicates the amount of each ingredient you get in a single serving. These are measured according to the standard unit used for each ingredient. Amounts could be given in grams (g), milligrams (mg), or micrograms (mcg). Some ingredients are measured in international units (IU), which is a measurement of potency.
The items listed right below “Amount per serving” are the active ingredients linked to the product’s benefits. You can use this list to find out key things about an ingredient, such as its source or how it was processed. For example, New Chapter’s calcium comes from a plant algae source, Lithothamnion, and this is noted in the ingredients list. Our Riboflavin (a B Vitamin), is fermented, indicated by “from ferment media” in the ingredients list. You can also find out the part of a plant used in herbal blends, such as the root, berry, or flower.
The daily values section of the Supplement Facts panel is divided into two categories, amount per serving and % Daily Value (%DV). Daily values are based on Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs), developed by the Food and Nutrition Board at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Recommended dietary allowances for an ingredient may vary by age and sex. Daily Values, developed by the FDA, are often similar to the recommended dietary allowance for an ingredient and represent how much of that ingredient you need daily. % Daily Value is the percentage of that ingredient included per serving.
You may notice some supplement ingredients do not have a % Daily Value. Things like herbs or mushrooms will have an asterisk or bullet in the %DV column. This is because only vitamins or minerals have set recommended intakes.
Unless otherwise indicated, Daily Values are meant for adults and children ages four and above.
There’s a section below the Supplement Facts panel called “Other” or “Other Ingredients.” These are ingredients that are not considered an active part of the formula, but still necessary—such as the capsule itself. “Other ingredients” are listed in descending order by weight. Below this area, supplements would list out any common allergens in bold, for easy reference.
You may find other useful information near the Supplement Facts panel.
This is an important section that tells you how to use the supplement—such as when to take it and whether you’d need to take it with food. New Chapter®’s one-daily multivitamins, for example, are taken once daily and can be taken on an empty stomach. If you have any questions or concerns about supplement use, check with your healthcare professional. It is not recommended to use a vitamin or supplement for anything other than its suggested use.
The expiration date lets you know how long your vitamin or supplement’s potency is guaranteed. Vitamins and supplements can be expensive, so many people wonder about the safety of continuing to take them past the date, instead of throwing them out. In general, it is not recommended to take expired supplements. To increase the longevity of your vitamins or supplements, Harvard Medical School suggests keeping your supplements in a cool, dry place.
Some labels have warnings for consumers with specific medical conditions or simply advise to notify your healthcare professional of any supplements you are taking. It is important to read all warnings carefully. Ask your healthcare professional if you have any questions.
Is gluten-free, vegan, organic, or non-GMO important to you? If so, make sure to check the packaging for third-party certifications! The NSF is one of the leading third-party certifiers of vitamins and supplements in the United States. Supplements undergo a variety of tests to ensure claims and product quality and efficacy. Any vitamin or supplement that is NSF certified will have an NSF certification mark somewhere on the packaging or on the product website. Other common validations include USDA Certified Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified.
With all of the supplement options on the market today, we know that choosing just the right one can feel overwhelming! That's why we recommend shopping smart. Decide ahead of time what is important to you in your supplements. Do you want your multivitamin to be vegetarian, made with organic ingredients, or non-GMO? How many tablets daily are you willing to take? Is there a specific ingredient or nutrient that you’re looking for? Knowing the answers to these questions before you shop can help cut through the confusion. You can find all of this information and more on the label and supplement facts panel!
If you’re shopping online and can’t hold the container in your hand, look for images of the panels or a Supplement Facts list. Also, be aware that regulations change over time, or a manufacturer may update a formula, so supplement facts may change too. If you have questions about a product, go to the website or call the manufacturer for help.
At the end of the day, reading Supplement Facts labels can really pay off by leading you to the highest quality supplements that are formulated with everything you want, nothing you don’t.
1“What is the Supplement Facts Label?” belabelwise.org/fact-sheet/, microsite of the Council for Responsible Nutrition [accessed 8/17/21]