Dietary Supplement Labels, Explained

by | Focus, Supplements

Supplement labels contain a lot of information crammed into a small space.

It can be tough to interpret what all that information means. So, we break it down for you and present you a dietary supplement labeling guide:

1. Suggested Use:

Sometimes this field is called ‘Dosage’ or ‘Directions’. It provides the daily recommended amount of the supplement to take in order to obtain its benefits.

2. Serving Size:

It lists how many tablets, gels, capsules, etc. need to be taken per day to get the percent of the daily value (DV) listed on the label.
Serving sizes are standardized units commonly used to make it easier for consumers to compare similar foods.

Pay attention to how many servings you are taking per day because your nutrient intake will depend on it.

3. %DV: Daily Value

The Daily Values (%DV) are based on the daily value recommendations for nutrients you would need based on 2000 calorie diet. It was created by FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) back in 1994.

Like most of us, you might not be keeping track of how many calories you are consuming per day. But you can still use this as a reference guide.

If the %DV is listed as 50% DV, that means that one serving will provide you with 50% of the daily value of that nutrient based on the need for a person consuming a 2000 calorie diet.

If the %DV is more than 100%, it means that you will be consuming more than the amount suggested by FDA, which may or may not be a problem. For some nutrients, you may consume too much, so you should be mindful of that for nutrients which are well above the 100% DV value, and potentially also check with any healthcare practitioner you might be working with.

4. Units:

They serve as standard reference units and provide you with information on how is it contained per service.

  • mg – milligrams (one thousand part of a gram)
  • mcg – micrograms (one-millionth part of a gram)
  • IU – international units. IU units can be converted to mg or mcg, but the conversion rate depends on the nutrient itself. For example converting Vitamin A in IU to Vitamin A in mg uses a different conversion factor than converting Vitamin D in IU to Vitamin D in mg.

5. Other Ingredients:

These are the list of elements in the supplement but do not directly influence the nutrient value of the supplement. 

All “other ingredients” should be safe for consumption and are often added to the supplement to maintain the shelf life or help in digestion.

If the manufacturer decides to add any new “other ingredients” not previously present in the supplement, they must provide information to the FDA at least 75 days before marketing that product. 

Some manufacturers also include a ‘Does Not Contain’ section on their label to call out specific ingredients which are not present, such as artificial colors, sweeteners or preservatives.

6. Caution:

It provides the information with respect to potential adverse or side effects of the supplement. E.g., how the supplement can potentially affect if you are taking other medicines, pregnant, nursing, etc. Generally, supplement labels don’t identify interactions with prescription medications, so if you are taking them you should again first consult with your health care practitioner to make sure they are safe.

7. Disclaimer or Note

As you can see, the supplements don’t go thru rigorous approvals by the FDA.

Supplement manufacturers and distributors provide this information to the consumers that the statements made on the label have “not” been evaluated by the FDA. Supplements by definition are not recommended to “diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.”  These characteristics are limited only to prescription medications which are governed by a different government body.

8. Asterisk Symbols

You might see double asterisk symbols (* *) in front of some nutrients. That indicates that %DV values of these nutrients have not been established.

They are usually added by the manufacturer based on their testing and/or study that these nutrients are safer to consume and have validated health benefits.


Expiration Date:
It tells you the supplements have degraded enough so that the %DV value on the supplement label is no longer valid. It does not necessarily mean that they are harmful to consume, but you as a consumer might not get the appropriate %DV value from them.

Lot Number:
Some supplements might carry information on LOT Number. That indicates that this supplement was manufactured as part of this manufacturing lot.

Manufactured by or Distributed by:

It merely states who is the Manufacturer or Distributor of the current supplement. And most likely, it would provide their address, phone, and email.

FDA requires each manufacturer to register each manufacturing facility with the FDA (Bioterrorism Act), but FDA does not “approve” any facility. FDA only provides guidelines to best practices for a supplement manufacturing facility.

The FDA does provide a registration and enforcement process via the NSF International body to receive a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) certification on higher quality supplement products. GMP ensures adherence to guidelines that provide a system of processes, procedures and documentation to assure a product has the identity, strength, composition, quality and purity that appear on its label.

GMP requirements is open not just to manufacturers of dietary supplements but also to manufacturers of ingredients and raw materials, as well as distribution, warehousing and packaging companies, who want to demonstrate their commitment to public safety.

Proprietary Blend:

Some manufacturers might say “proprietary blend.” According to Consumer Reports, “proprietary blend” means that manufacturer has mixed a set of ingredients into a specific blend.

Note that the manufacturer has to include “which” ingredients they used but does NOT have to say “how much” of each ingredient, they used in the blend.

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As you can see, supplement labels contain a lot of information and it’s always good to know what those labels mean.

Next time when you see supplement bottle, you will know what those labels mean and make wise purchasing decisions.


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