Understanding Food and Supplement Labels

By Wieke von Scheidt

Being able to read and understand nutrition and supplement labels is not only helpful but also important. For the sake of our health we need to know what we feed into our body on a daily basis. Nutrition and Supplement Labels don’t look exactly alike and for individuals who have never read either one before, they may seem very overwhelming.

Before learning about labels we need to understand the difference between food labels and supplement labels.  Food or Nutrition Labels are labeled as Nutrition Facts at the top of the table, while dietary supplements are labeled as Supplement facts. Products marked as nutrition facts are sold as food and all ingredients are approved by the FDA. Dietary supplements on the other hand are not evaluated by the FDA but have to follow their guidelines and are sold as a supplement.

Both are closely regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  These organizations not only monitor exactly what goes into our foods and supplements but also created uniform layouts as well as definitions for each term. This is so all terms have the exact same meaning for different products.


Nutrition Label



Photo Credit: keepwellfoods


1) Start Here

This section shows the amount of one serving size, usually it is 1 cup but it varies depending on the food. In addition it states how many of those servings are in the entire container.


2) Check Calories

Calories are an important source of energy  –  it measures how much energy a food or beverage contains; from carbohydrates, fat, protein, or alcohol. The amount of calories consumed varies from person to person.


3) Limit these

Fat is important for our body but it should be limited. There are good sources of fat such as unsaturated fats; polysaturated (Omega-3 and Omega-6) and monosaturated fats that our body needs. Fats that should be limited or even eliminated from ones diet are saturated and trans fats. Both can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol and Sodium should also be consumed in small quantities to prevent the risk of heart disease.


4) Get Enough of these Nutrients

Fiber, Vitamins, and Minerals are good nutrients that support overall health. They reduce risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, and other conditions.


5) Footnote

The “*” states the recommended amount based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet. This will help individuals who follow a diet close to 2000 calories determine how much of a certain nutrient they have to consume. Note that altering serving sizes will skew the amount of nutrients consumed.


6) Quick Guide

The % of Daily Value section serves as guidance to how much of a certain nutrient is consumed based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Each nutrient is based on 100% daily requirement and helps determine whether the content of a nutrient is high or low in one serving. Less than 5% is considered low, while more than 20% is considered high. The DV also helps to compare products, as long as the serving sizes are the same.


7) Ingredients

The list of ingredients is the backbone of every product. It lists exactly what substances the product is made out of. You should pay close attention to it. The ingredients are listed in descended order with the main ingredients first. Sometimes a product will advertise that it is made out of a certain nutrient but it is very far down on the list. This means the food or beverage contains that substance but the way it’s weighted in coherence to the other ingredients might not be as high as it is advertised.



Supplement Labels

Supplement Label

Photo Credit: theralogix


Supplements are taken by mouth, often in form of a pill or capsule and are intended to complement ones diet. Supplement Labels are slightly different from Nutrition Labels.


Just like nutrition labels, supplements show the serving size and the entire serving per container.


This section lists all the key ingredients, such as vitamins, minerals, whole herbs, botanical extracts, amino acids, other ingredients such as enzymes, organ tissues, glandulars, and nutritional metabolites along with their amounts per serving and percentage of daily value if applicable.


Below the black bold line is often where companies list a proprietary blend, which is a product specific blend that does not have to list the amount per serving. Companies often develop a proprietary blend to make their product unique from other products on the market.


Other ingredients don’t have any beneficial value to the supplement. They are ingredients used to make capsules, pills, etc. It also states the directions of the recommended amount and any warnings that maybe associated with taking the product in combination with others.









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Posted on November 6, 2014, in Health and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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