Deciphering Supplements Like A Pro
For many people, reading ingredient labels can feel like a crash course in a foreign language. And that feeling can be especially true when trying to pick the right supplements. Unlike nutritional information panels on food packaging, dietary supplements such as multivitamins outline details differently. Add in the fact that the product category isn’t well regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But important phrases like daily value (DV) and international units (UI) — two essential measurements when picking a supplement — aren’t widely known concepts. So, be sure to consider the following factors when shopping for nutrition supplements.
1. DV defined
Daily value refers to the recommended amount a person should ingest a specific nutrient or ingredient per day. Usually, DV is listed as a percentage and is calculated assuming that an adult consumes roughly 2,000 calories in a day. As a general guide, a 5% or lower nutrient is considered a low dose, while anything over 20% is deemed high. But don’t be surprised that some ingredients might lack a DV rating as the FDA may not have created a formal intake recommendation. Not having a percentage doesn’t mean that a substance is harmful, but people should speak with a physician before incorporating a supplement into a daily routine.
2. More isn’t always better
In the U.S., there’s an overarching belief that more is better. Getting more food on the plate means getting a good deal at a restaurant, and getting more clothing for less money is a steal. But with supplements, this belief doesn’t always hold. Experts will always agree that the best way to get essential nutrients is through a healthy and balanced diet. But if a supplement is needed, be mindful of how much of an ingredient is present. Reaching more than the daily recommended amount can be dangerous in some cases and lead to unwanted health side effects.
3. Is there oversight?
The FDA doesn’t regulate supplements unless a pattern of adverse side effects is documented and linked to a specific product. As a result, many accessories make dubious claims, are full of fillers, or include low-quality ingredients. To avoid wasting money and risking health, look for products that follow the CGMP guidelines during production to ensure an oversight organization has reviewed the ingredients for potency and accuracy. The most well-known reviewing bodies are:
- NSF International
- US Pharmacopeia
- Underwriters Laboratory
- Consumer Lab
Be smart when shopping
When used correctly, supplements can be a great way to bolster nutrition gaps in a daily diet. But people need to remember that supplements aren’t strongly regulated. Try to avoid brands that make hard-to-prove claims, such as curing chronic diseases or claims of efficacy or strength that aren’t supported through peer-reviewed scientific research. Also, try to stick to brands produced in the U.S. as the risk of ingesting toxic ingredients is lower. Before selecting a supplement, speak with a physician to understand the purpose of the nutrient and if there are any risks of interactions with current prescription medications or regularly consumed food products.