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How to read labels on your supplements

A nutrition label is like a map to good health, letting you know how to make better holistic choices. A label on your food or supplement tells you the 411 of what it contains and in some cases where it was sourced. Learning how to navigate the information will help you shop more efficiently and consume more wisely. Here is a guide for deciphering labels on your supplements:

Know The Sections

Labels are usually sectioned off in columns of info so it is simpler to read and the information is easier to find. It is a template that all manufacturers use, so if you have seen one, you will recognize them all.

Serving size

This is the key to the map of your label. The company will recommend a portion to consume at one sitting, and how many are contained in one package. With this information, you can then figure out what the nutritional content is for each serving.

This is also a good way to keep track portion control. If you are used to having two scoops, but notice the label says a serving is one, then you are eating twice the recommended calories, fat, and other ingredients on the sticker.

Calories

If you are counting your calories, this column will tell you the amount that is in each serving. Learning how many calories are contained in fats versus sugar or carbs is a quick shortcut to keep a check on your daily intake.

Key Ingredient

If you are, for instance, deciding to check out the breakdown of that “healthy” granola you have as a snack, this column can tell you how it all shakes out as far as sugar, fat, carbs, etc. It’s a good measuring stick to let you know if sugar is the leadoff nutrient of whatever you are ingesting, or what minerals your new supplement can provide you to boost your well-being. You can also glean if the product is made from natural products, or from substances that you need a scientific encyclopedia to understand.

Daily value

The percent daily value or, as it’s known on the street, DV, is used to show how one serving fulfills the daily recommended value of the product depending upon your meal plan. For instance, if you consume 2,000 calories a day, a supplement with 5% of fat is 5% of the total fat that you should eat that day. Not everyone eats the same amount of calories and food per day, depending on age or weight. Your personal requirements may need to be adjusted.

For a quick check, you can always go by the 5-20 rule. 5% of a DV is a relatively low amount, whereas 20% is a high amount of nutrients per serving.    

Additional ingredients

Ingredients are listed in order of appearance and importance, just like the movie star names on a marquis. But you should always keep reading if you want to know what goes into the supplements you are taking. Often listed after the key ingredient list, this will show everything used to create the product. For instance, for omega-3, it may list “fish oil”. For something that is less natural, the list might contain words that are less recognizable. Many foods that claim to be healthy are laden with ingredients that belong in a test tube, such as MSG, or have hidden sugars and trans fats. Be a sleuth and search this section to figure it out.

Contains

If you are concerned about specific ingredients, such as allergens, scan the contains section to see what is listed and read closely. Often this is where certain ingredients that could be problematic would be shown, such as wheat, eggs, milk, etc.

Suggested use

It’s not enough to know what is in the product, you have to know how to take it too. There is such thing as too much of a good thing. The suggested use section lets you know how much you can imbibe in order to get the best results. Whether is recommends “Take one capsule with every meal”, or “Take one teaspoon by mouth”, or “Open package of chips and consume at start of zombie apocalypse.” These instructions will help you get the best results from each product.

Warning

These warnings don’t come with a siren or neon sign but are often mentioned in small italic type as a caution for those taking the product in specific situations. If you are taking certain medications, or have a medical condition, these warnings can help you from having a reaction. Before taking any supplements or starting a new program, it’s best to check out all labels and warnings – better to be safe than sorry.

Additional allergy info

Consider this an extra warning if you managed to drive over the orange cones and bypass the first one. Some companies are multitaskers who manufacture many products at once and their equipment can sometimes contaminate certain ingredients. This cross-pollinating may make your simple supplement contain an allergen it would never normally contain. In this section, look for descriptions such as ‘product made on equipment that processed allergens such as wheat, soy, peanuts, etc.” If you see this, know that your allergy might be triggered and you can steer clear of it before you’ll need to reach for an epi pen. Always read before you buy.