The Fruitful Life

What's in This?! 5 Tips on Reading Labels

What's in This?! 5 Tips on Reading Labels

When reading labels, the struggle is real! Christine McParland teaches us how to understand vitamin and supplement labels.

You run into the health food store to pick up a bottle of Vitamin C. Simple, right? Not when there’s dozens of options lining the shelves, with each one claiming to be the best. How do you decide? Reading the label is key to making an informed decision. Be the master of your nutritional destiny - or at the very least, simplify your shopping trip!

1. Read the back of the label

Terms found on the front of the label such as “max potency” or “super cleanse” describe the product, but don’t necessarily define it. Read the Supplement Facts and Ingredients list on the back of the label to determine ingredients and potency of a product. For example, a label saying, “Super Potent Vitamin D 1,000 IU" (or International Units) does not always mean it's more potent than other brands. For example, a product with 5,000 IU of Vitamin D per serving would be 5 times more potent than the “Super Potent” product. Remember, descriptions on the front of the label are always relative when compared to the Supplement Facts and Ingredients on the back.

2. Whole herbs vs. herbal extracts

Herbal extracts are specific parts taken from an herb, making them more concentrated and potent than the original herb. Make sure you choose a standardized extract, which ensures the amount is consistent in each bottle.

Herbal supplements in their original, whole forms provide all of the original nutrients and parts of the herb. Though whole herbs are not as concentrated or as potent as extracts, there are benefits to having the whole herb as opposed to extracts. A popular example is turmeric vs. curcumin. Curcumin, an extract from turmeric, has been shown to be helpful in providing pain and inflammation support. Although turmeric naturally contains curcumin in smaller amounts, turmeric has many other benefits - some of which science hasn’t even begun to discover.

Therefore, to target a specific symptom in the body, it may be best to choose a standardized extract suggested for that symptom. For general support in overall health, a whole-herb supplement may better suit the body's needs.

3. Know your ingredients

The list of “Other Ingredients” is just as important as the Supplement Facts label above it. Look for added ingredients—food dyes, artificial flavors, preservatives or chemical additives. Remember: just because you can’t pronounce an ingredient doesn’t necessarily mean it’s fake or bad for you. Many natural products have scientific or Latin names that look suspicious at first glance! Do your research and know the ingredients before choosing what supplement you put in your body.

4. Prioritize

Don’t write off a supplement because it’s doesn’t have trending buzz phrases like “Whole Food” or “Certified Organic” on the label. Again, check the ingredients. Many supplements contain organic ingredients, but cannot be labeled as such if the capsule itself isn’t organic. Some vitamin isolates also contain whole food ingredients (like Vitamin C Isolate with added Acerola: a food source of the vitamin).

Furthermore, if you have allergies, don’t assume a vitamin is gluten-free or soy-free because it isn’t listed in the ingredients. Make sure the supplement is certified to be free of that allergen, due to potential cross-contamination. Often, you will see a certification seal on the label.

5. Further research

One last tip: the FDA does not require an ingredient to be listed on the label if it makes up less than 10% of the total volume of the product. Research different brands and choose those that have a transparent, true-to-label policy (such as NOW®). This means if it’s in the supplement, it’s listed on the label - no hidden ingredients!

Next time you stroll the vitamin aisle, be empowered to de-mystify label jargon and understand what’s actually inside the bottle you’re holding. Happy shopping!

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