Everyone who’s been in a supermarket knows that supplement is a pretty broad category that includes vitamins, minerals, herbs, “green drinks,” essential fatty acids, and other nutrients that are either derived or synthesized from food sources. According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, supplements aren’t considered drugs, which means they can go to market without the US Food and Drug Administration reviewing them beforehand.
To choose the right supplements, it’s important to choose a brand whose ingredients are made of food-grade concentrates—meaning that its ingredients come from natural foods and herbs—since the body also metabolizes them more easily than it does synthetic components. Try to avoid supplements that contain fillers, dyes, binders, or any other unnecessary ingredients. The reason those are used is because they’re cheaper, and there are bigger profits and more marketing dollars, which create more influence. It can be a vicious cycle.
The product label on a supplement consists of a statement of identity, a structure/function claim, the form the product takes (gel, liquid, capsule), directions on how to take it, a supplement fact panel, a list of other ingredients, and the name and address of the manufacturer. We’ll take them one by one.
A. STATEMENT OF IDENTITY
The statement of identity tells you the name of the supplement, or what it is—e.g., vitamin D, B complex, or melatonin—and identifies it as a vitamin, a mineral, a dietary supplement, etc.
B. STRUCTURE/FUNCTION CLAIM
The structure/function claim tells what the supplement does or what its health benefits are. By law, the structure/function claim can’t say that a supplement treats or cures a disease, but it can set out what role or function the supplement will play in your body.
C. FORM OF PRODUCT AND NET CONTENTS
This identifies whether the supplement is a capsule, a gel, a liquid, or a powder, and how much or how many the bottle contains.
D. DIRECTIONS FOR USE
This tells you how you’re supposed to take the product—once a day, twice daily, once a week, and so on.
E. SUPPLEMENT FACTS PANEL
Here you’ll find the serving size—a capsule, two tablets—along with a list of active ingredients and the total percentage of the recommended daily intake the supplement provides for each ingredient. If there’s an asterisk in the daily value column for any ingredient, it means the manufacturer hasn’t determined a daily value.
F. OTHER INGREDIENTS
This list tells you what inactive ingredients were used to create and manufacture the supplement. On this list you’ll find ingredients like binders, fillers, coatings, water, and gelatin. Again, try to avoid supplements with too many inactive ingredients in them.
G. PRODUCT MANUFACTURER
What it says—the name and address of the manufacturer.
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