Supplement Labels – Straightforward vs Tricky

Many of us take the time to read the “Supplement Facts” panel of the label and some of us don’t. But, as you may know, even checking the label doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you know exactly what’s in the product. Some manufacturers have great labels extolling the virtues and ingredients of their product. However, if you take a closer look at the actual ingredients and the way everything adds up, you may notice something else.

This is part 1 of a 3 part post about how to interpret the “Supplement Facts” panel on vitamin and supplement labels. We didn’t want to overwhelm you with 1,000s of words and details all in one post. So, we broke it up into 3 easy to digest posts.

It Starts With Serving Size

The first thing to know when trying to figure out what’s in a product is how to interpret the “Supplement Facts” panel on the back of the label. I suggest starting with serving size.

Serving size tells you how much is recommended by the manufacturer for “consumption per eating occasion” (FDA.gov) or in other words, daily intake.

For example, a manufacturer could say, “2,000 mg of turmeric! Best in the market!” And, because they list 4-capsules as a serving size, they would be correct. At least about the 2,000 mg per serving, but probably not about “Best in the market”. A quick bit of math tells us that if their recommended daily amount is 2,000 mg and their serving size is 4-capsules per day, then the total ingredients in their capsule must be 500 mg.

If you’ve done any research about turmeric you know that 500 mg of turmeric is definitely not the “Best” or even close to the best offered by manufacturers. What this hypothetical manufacturer is likely trying to do is to get you to notice the 2,000 mg plastered all over their label and not the fact that you have to take 4 capsules to get it. When you know what to look for in the supplement facts panel you can pass right by this type of marketing hype and find something better.

For reference, here’s how the FDA views serving size. According to FDA guidelines, your serving size should match your recommended daily suggestion. “For example, if the directions on your label say to take 1-3 tablets with breakfast, the serving size would be 3 tablets.” (FDA.gov).

A Real-World Example

Here’s a real-world example, in my opinion, of misleading marketing. While I really like the philanthropic work this company does, I don’t agree with how they label their product. In my opinion, it’s misleading in several areas.

On the front of their packaging (box and bottle), it reads 2,250mg daily and as we now know the serving size on the “Supplement Facts” panel should match. At least, we should be able to quickly figure out that their serving size multiplied by the capsule size should equal the claim on the front of the box for daily intake.

But, it doesn’t. The supplement facts panel shows a serving size of 1 capsule, which with a mixture of turmeric, curcumin, ginger, and BioPerine® for a total of 790mg per capsule. My math is a bit rusty, but something doesn’t add up. It seems their label doesn’t follow the FDA guidelines. I think what they mean is 750 mg of just the turmeric and curcumin x 3 capsules = 2,250 mg, but that’s not what their supplement facts panel says and to reach that higher number their serving size should be 3 capsules, not 1.

Why Would A Manufacturer Do This?

Why would a manufacturer do this? Well, 2,250 mg sounds great to those of us that just read the front of the box. And, for those of us that flip the box over and look at the supplement facts panel, needing only one capsule per day sounds great too! Problem is, none of this actually adds up. You either get 1 capsule per day with only 750 mg, or you take 3 capsules per day and get 2,250 mg. Not both.

Doesn’t it stand to reason that without following the FDA’s guidelines, a manufacturer could put whatever number they wanted on the front of the box and have you believe that you can reach that number with a 1 capsule serving size? When you know what you’re looking for, you can do the math yourself and avoid being misled. Good manufacturers do the math for you and are transparent about how much is needed daily.

One More Concern

There’s another thing about this label that is concerning. If, as a consumer, you look at the serving size of 1 capsule and you see that there are 180 capsules in the bottle, you could rightfully assume that you’re getting a 6-month supply. Take one daily X 180 capsules = 180 days or 6 months. What a deal!

However, you now know that you have to take 3 capsules daily to reach the claim of 2,250 mg on the front of the box. If you take 3 capsules daily you’re only getting a 2-month supply of product, not a 6-month supply.

Manufacturers should follow the FDA’s guideline and be very clear about the information on their labels so that the consumer doesn’t have to work to interpret what is in the product and how long it should last.

Check out part 2 and part 3 of our post to learn more about how to interpret the “Supplement Facts” panel on your vitamin and supplement labels.

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