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5 Things You Need to Know About Reading Vitamin Labels

Take a chill pill. Before you start popping vitamins, be sure you’ve read the labels so you know they’re safe for you.

Eating a balanced diet is the best way to ensure that you’re getting your needed vitamins and minerals. At least that’s the mantra you’ve probably been told. So why does it seem that anyone talking about their healthy eating and exercise resolutions is also talking about supplements? In many circumstances, they may be good for you — and necessary.

Looking to jump-start your health regimen with supplements? Check for NSF certification.

Standing in the store aisle amid the sea of choices, you may wonder which ones are beneficial to your health and which ones might involve health risks. It’s complicated, because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed.

That’s why it’s super helpful to read the labels. However, it can be tricky to know where to start, since they are packed with information. So we turned to our supplement and vitamin gurus at NSF to help you learn the best ways to read and understand these labels. Here are some top tips:

  • Be Diligent About Dosage

    Consuming excessive vitamins and supplements can have adverse health effects, so be sure to follow the serving size. This is the manufacturer’s suggested serving, and it’s typically stated as per tablet, capsule, packet or teaspoonful. This can be especially important when taking more than one supplement with the same ingredient.
  • Pay Attention to the Proper Amount Needed

    The Daily Value (DV) is the average amount of the vitamin or mineral needed to meet the recommended nutritional requirements.
  • Beware of Health Claims

    Dietary supplements are generally not permitted to claim they can treat, prevent or cure a specific disease or condition. However, they can make other claims on the product label, such as “contains calcium to help your bones.” This is allowed only when there is official scientific agreement.
  • Understand Nutrient Content Claims

    Nutrient content claims describe the level of a nutrient in a dietary supplement. For example, a supplement containing at least 200 milligrams of calcium per serving may carry the claim “high in calcium.” A supplement with at least 12 mg per serving of vitamin C could state on its label, “Excellent source of vitamin C.”

    • Avoid outrageous claims. Most of us have seen supplements that promise to help make us thinner, stronger, faster or more intelligent or to improve our sex life without our having to make any other lifestyle changes. Just as with other products, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    • "All natural." Unlike “organic,” “all natural” is not an official term regulated by the federal government and does not offer any guarantee of a product’s safety.
    • "Pharmaceutical strength." This is another one to watch out for, as there is no such thing as pharmaceutical strength for over-the-counter supplements.
  • Buy Certified

    While several organizations offer to test dietary supplements, their methods and standards vary. NSF/ANSI 173 - Dietary Supplements was developed 20 years ago to provide a uniform standard for manufacturing and testing nutritional supplements. Products must be made in a facility audited for compliance with good manufacturing practices that ensure quality. They are then tested to confirm that what’s on the label is actually present in the bottle or package. In addition, testing is conducted to verify that there are no unsafe contaminants in the supplement, such as heavy metals, pesticides and herbicides, residual solvents, or microbes. Certification also helps ensure that there are no unlisted ingredients, which is important for those with allergies.

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