How To Read A Supplement Label

We know…..yawn! It sounds very boring but putting together a product label that meets regulations and effectively markets a product is rather complex.

Labels need to be unique and show off the company brand, but they are also required by law to display mandatory information. This means supplement labels can often look busy and overwhelming.

In this article we cover the top things to look out for on your supplement labels, so as a consumer, you can cut through to the important stuff!

What does my supplement do?

“Anti-ageing supplement”, “health supplement”, “nutraceutical”, “dietary supplement” … these are just some of the types of supplements that you probably have on your health shelf. On the front of each label there is likely to be some kind of descriptive text attempting to tell you what the product is and what it does. Most companies would like to be able to say more about their products, but legislation prevents a lot of ‘claims’, even where the company has its own evidence to substantiate them so don’t let it put you off if the label doesn’t say a lot in this regard. Each product will have a fancy product name and a legal name – food supplement or dietary supplement, depending on the country.

What ingredients are in my supplement?

The ‘product information’ or ‘supplement facts’ sections are where you will find the active ingredients. These sections tell you what ingredients are in the product and the amounts. If the product contains vitamins and minerals, it will also show how much contribution the amount makes to the recommended daily allowance. In the UK the comparison is given as a % of the NRV (Nutrient Reference Value) and in the US as a % of the DV (Daily Value). The amount will usually be given in micrograms (µg), milligrams (mg) or grams (g) so make sure you check the unit too. There are safe levels and a reputable company will have made sure that the ingredients do not exceed those limits. If you are consuming multiple different supplements check that there is no overlap in the ingredients. Bear in mind that more is not necessarily better. You can still ‘overdose’ on nutraceutical products so follow the directions carefully.


What about ‘other’ ingredients?

The ingredients list will provide information about other ingredients in the product too. These could be compound ingredients that come from the raw materials themselves, or they could be excipients. Compound ingredients may have been added to the raw materials to aid stability or used in the extraction of herbs for example. Excipients are ingredients such as the capsule shell or tabletting materials required to hold the shape and structure of the tablet. Other compound ingredients might include anti-caking or flow agents that have been required to get the powder to filter into capsule shells without sticking in the machines. All these ingredients should be displayed on the product label so you know exactly what you are buying.


Is the product suitable for me?

Allergens and suitability are two really important considerations when choosing a supplement. Displaying suitability information, such as whether the product is suitable for vegetarian & vegans isn’t a legal requirement but many companies do provide this information. But you will have to look for it as it could appear anywhere! Allergen information, however, is mandatory on every label for obvious safety reasons. In Europe allergens mostly appear in bold, or another sub type, within the ingredients list to indicate they are in the product. On US labels allergens are likely to appear under ‘warnings’. Always read the warnings or cautions section carefully to make sure the product is suitable for you. If you have any doubts, consult a qualified medical practitioner before taking it.

How do I know if the supplement is good quality?

It is worth while checking where the product is manufactured and to what standards. Best quality food/dietary supplements are manufactured to GMP standards, but not all products follow these recommendations. GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practices. That means the manufacturing of product with safety and quality to avoid contamination, just like pharmaceuticals. In the UK GMP audited facilities are inspected by the MHRA (Medicine & Healthcare Regulatory Authority). In the USA they are managed by the FDA (The Food and Drug Administration). The FDA is a federal agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments. The FDA conducts several types of inspections to help protect consumers from unsafe products. Manufacturing to these standards ensures you receive safe and great quality products.

How should I store my supplements?

In order to make sure your supplements do not degrade, it is important to check the recommended storage conditions. Most labels will suggest storing the product at room temperature out of direct sunlight. This is to protect the product from the process of oxidation which can make it go off. Both sunlight and heat can cause oxidation, so watch out for products in clear bottles with no protection at all. Some product such as live probiotics may require refrigeration for additional stability. Also, check your product is sealed in some way to ensure that it could not have been tampered with since manufacture. It may have a plastic wrap over the top of the lid or a heat seal under the lid for example.


Just to confuse things even further, differing legislation for different countries means that product labels change from country to country, so things aren’t always where we expect them! If you are unsure of anything on a supplement label, company websites are always a good place for further information. There should also be contact details for the company selling the product so you can call or send an email with further questions.