Supplement Guide – How to Read the Label

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Supplement Guide - How to read the label of Vitamins & Supplements to ensure correct dosages.The New England Journal of Medicine published their perspective on front-of-package nutrition labeling. The authors (Kelly D. Brownell, PhD, and Jeffrey P. Koplan, MD, MPH) expressed their frustration that the sample front-of-package label system developed by the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Marketing Institute is much more confusing than the simple traffic-light system (green, yellow, red light) labeling concept used in Britain. Our Supplement Guide will help you read the bottle, compare different supplements, and keep you informed on what you’re actually taking.

Reading the perspective, I started thinking about vitamin and supplement labels, and how confusing they are too! For starters, FDA guidelines, in place for our protection as consumers, don’t allow supplement companies to simply “list” on the bottle the benefits of a particular ingredient or formula. Some retailers make the process a little bit easier by organizing supplements by health concern (i.e., joint health; digestion; cholesterol), but there’s still plenty of room for improvement. For example, the bottles of omega-3s you find on the shelf aren’t going to tell you how good they are for heart and brain health, as well as being overall inflammation fighters. And, once you’ve figured out that omega-3’s are beneficial, they aren’t going to tell you how much science says we need to consume.

Supplement Guide – Tips for reading the label:

Here are our steps for decoding the front package of a bottle of Omega-3:

  • Do not assume that the “1,000 mg” or “1 gram” notation on the front label is relevant – this notation is a marketing notation, and typically means that the capsule size is 1,000 mg – not that the product provides 1,000 mg EPA, DHA and/or ALA. It’s entirely possible that a 1,000 mg capsule may contain as few as 300 mg EPA and DHA, combined.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids encompass EPA, DHA, and ALA. EPA and DHA are marine-based, while ALA is plant-based. ALA can’t be directly used by the body, so it is converted into EPA and DHA.

How do I compare supplements?

The vast majority of research has been conducted studying the impact of EPA and DHA.

  • To compare products and brands, refer to the ingredient panel and add together the amount of EPA, DHA, and ALA documented on the ingredient panel. The “ingredient panel” (or nutrition facts panel) is regulated by the FDA – so these are the only numbers that count. This instruction applies to both nutritional supplements and fortified foods. For example, some egg brands with omega-3 simply say there are omega-3’s in the egg, while others will list a specific level for EPA/DHA provided.

The Institute of Medicine recommends that adult women consume 1,100 mg of EPA/DHA (total combined) per day, while men should consume 1,600 mg EPA/DHA. Because ALA doesn’t convert in the body easily, women consuming omega-3 fatty acids in the plant-based ALA form should consume 1,300 mg daily, while men should consume 2,700 mg. Cooper Complete Advanced Omega-3 contains 1,200 mg EPA/DHA in each two softgel serving.

Article By: Jill Turner, President of Cooper Complete®

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