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 must be unique and highlight the company brand, but they are also required by law to display mandatory information. This means supplement labels can often be busy and overwhelming.
In this article we cover the top things to look out for on your supplement labels, so you can cut through to the important stuff.
(a look at our US label)
What does my supplement do?
“Anti-aging supplement”, “health supplement”, “nutraceutical”, “dietary supplement” … these are just some of the types of products you likely have in your medicine cabinet. On the front of each label you'll find descriptive text that tells you what the product is and what it does. Most companies would like to be able to share more about their products on the packaging, but legislation prevents many claims, even when the company has its own evidence to substantiate them... so don’t let the minimal descriptions dissuade you. Each product will have their unique product name as well as a legal name – "food supplement" or "dietary supplement", depending on the country.
What ingredients are in my supplement?
The "product information" or "supplement facts" section is where you will find the product's active ingredients. These sections tell you what ingredients can be found in the product and in what quantities. If the supplement contains vitamins and minerals, the label will also show their contribution 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 displayed in micrograms (µg), milligrams (mg) or grams (g) so be sure to check the unit used as well. There are guidelines for safe serving levels and a reputable company will have made sure that the ingredients do not exceed those limits. If you are consuming multiple supplements check that there is no overlap in the ingredients. Remember that more is not necessarily better. It is possible to overdose on nutraceutical products so follow the directions carefully.
What about "other" ingredients?
The ingredients list will also provide information about other ingredients in the product. 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 assist in the extraction of herbs, for example. Excipients are ingredients such as the capsule shell or materials required to maintain the shape and structure of the tablet. Other compound ingredients might include anti-caking or flow agents that are required to get powder to filter into capsule shells without sticking in manufacturing machines. All these ingredients should be displayed on the product label so you know exactly what you are buying and consuming.
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. You will have to look for it as it could appear anywhere on the packaging. 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 sections carefully to make sure the product is suitable for you. If you have any doubts, consult a qualified medical practitioner before consuming.
How do I know if the supplement is good quality?
It is worth checking where the product is manufactured and to what standards the manufacturer adheres. The highest 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 contribute to spoilage. 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 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.