HOW TO READ A FOOD SUPPLEMENT LABEL
I am going to teach you how to read a food supplement label so that you can give yourself the opportunity to make the best and most natural choices when using a food supplement.
Everyone who takes food supplements such as vitamins or herbal remedies wants to know what she or he is taking. The best way to do this is to look at the product label.
This approach sounds simple and like common sense, but did you know that many vitamins and herbal products contain synthetic or unnatural ingredients and that unless you know what to look for on the label you may be ingesting these synthetics and unnatural ingredients?
If you don't care what kind of food supplements you take, that is fine, but you should have knowledge about the quality of your food supplement ingredients so that you can make an informed choice. Reading the food supplement label will help you to make an informed choice.
If you want to know what is really in your food and dietary supplements you must be able to read the food supplement product label correctly. Otherwise, you risk ingesting synthetics and unnatural ingredients that may actually harm you even though you think the product is natural and harmless.
Synthetic nutrients are man-made chemical compounds that are manufactured the same as drugs and therefore, like drugs, they are generally toxic and may produce side effects over long term use as all drugs do.
The body is intelligent and does not like synthetic nutrients that do not come from real food or herbal sources. The body can tolerate a lot, but synthetics are toxic to one degree or another and cause a body burden.
I am not anti-drug since drugs are very necessary especially in emergencies or when we need clinical care. If I have an emergency or immediate problem I want the best drugs possible.
However, for long term preventive health I like naturally occurring nutrients rather than synthetics since there is less chance for side effects or long term toxicity.
Before we get into specific information on food supplement labels let me tell you about the three categories of food supplement products in the market place that are available to you as a consumer. This information will help you to categorize a food supplement product and I will tell you how to read a label to know what category your food supplement falls into.
There are basically three categories or types of food supplements on the market today.
1. Food supplements that have Only Naturally Occurring potencies of vitamins, minerals, herbal actives or other nutrients derived directly from naturally occurring traditional food sources. These supplements do not contain synthetic or unnatural excipients. (This category is currently rare and difficult to find).
2. Food supplements that have partial naturally occurring potencies of vitamins, minerals or herbal actives or other nutrients derived directly from traditional or non-traditional food sources and also contain synthetics (man-made chemical compounds) added indirectly to the "mix" of ingredients found in the product formula. These supplements may or may not contain synthetic or unnatural excipients. (These supplements are a higher end type of supplements, but are not completely natural and are mostly found abundantly available in natural food stores).
3. Food supplements that contain the direct addition of synthetic vitamins, inorganic minerals or other synthetic nutrients (man-made chemical compounds) usually deposited in a base of traditional or non-traditional food sources or just added to the product excipients. These synthetic supplements may or may not contain synthetic or unnatural excipients. (These supplements are found in almost every mass market grocery or convenience store and represent the largest category of food supplements available to the consumer).
Here is a diagram illustrating the 3 categories as above:
Here is some additional information that should be on the label related to the 3 categories as above.
This information that should be on the product labels and will help you to determine which category of supplement (1-3) that you are currently using or intending to use or want to use.
These food supplements are naturally occurring from traditional foods and herbs or other naturally occurring sources and do not contain any synthetics, GMO's or other potentially harmful ingredients. This information should be indicated on the label. You should see on the label that the ingredients are "naturally occurring" or the equivalent and the main ingredients should include the exact Latin (scientific) or common name of the food or herbal source of the nutrient.
If there is a claim for a potency of a vitamin, mineral, herbal active or other naturally occurring nutrient then this nutrient should be referenced directly to the specific natural food or herbal source from which it is derived.
For example, the label for a product with a naturally occurring source of vitamin C would read something like the following:
“Contains 25 mg of Vitamin C form Acerola cherries/fruit or from Amla berries/fruit." (or some other naturally occurring source of vitamin C)”
The above example would be similar for any food supplement label with a claim of any naturally occurring nutrient or active ingredient such as B vitamins, any other vitamins, any minerals, any herbs or herbal actives or any other nutrients where there is a potency claim or naturally occurring claim or equivalent claim.
If you do not see some information like the above on a food supplement label for all the ingredients in the product that is claiming a potency for any ingredient or any part of the product or is claiming to be a naturally occurring product that has naturally occurring ingredients then that product probably is not actually naturally occurring and it will fall into Category 2 or 3 instead of Category 1.
These supplements although much better than purely synthetic supplements are not completely naturally occurring and often contain the indirect addition of synthetics.
Unlike Category 1 food supplements, Category 2 supplements may use our labeling laws to obscure the fact that they are adding synthetics to their products indirectly.
To understand Category 2 food supplements you have to look at the manufacturing process they use.
Here is what I mean. Most consumers and even experts in the food supplement industry do not know that Category 2 food supplements contain synthetics. This is mainly an industry secret because the process used by Category 2 food supplement manufacturers is normally not fully disclosed since they do not want the consumer to know about it.
Most Category 2 food supplements use some good food ingredients and even a majority of good ingredients for many of their supplement ingredients which may be naturally occurring.
The problem is that they often also add synthetics in their products and do not disclose the fact that they are adding these synthetic (man-made chemical compounds) into their product for their product potency claims. They also do not use the word "synthetic" or an equivalent description on their product labels even when the product contains added synthetics. Our current labeling law allows this.
When a Category 2 food supplement product contains synthetic vitamins, for example, they are using an artificial process to accomplish this.
What they do is use a "base" medium of probiotics, algae or most often a yeast base such as the yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast bacterium.
This medium of yeast is then "cultured" or fermented and synthetic vitamins such as USP B vitamins or other vitamins or nutrients or inorganic minerals or other synthesized nutrients are added to the yeast medium. After the yeast "soup" that has been "enhanced" or spiked by the addition of various synthetic nutrients is used as a base material for the Category 2 food supplement manufacturing.
Another thing about Category 2 food supplement labels is that they often refer to the source of their nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients as coming from a "food source" or "food base" or some equivalent description rather than stating the exact single food or herb that could be a source for the specific nutrient being described.
For example: The Category 2 product label mentions Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) and refers the source to be a "food source" or "food base" or something similar. When you see this kind of information on a label it usually means they are referring to the yeast soup that contains the synthetic nutrients such as synthetic Vitamin B1 (Thiamine).
So, they are stating that the B1 (Thiamine) is derived from the spiked medium that has been spiked with added synthetic B1 and that the B1 is Not coming from a naturally occurring source. In other words, they are stating on the label that the source of the claimed nutrient potency of the Vitamin B1 they are referring to is actually synthetic and not naturally occurring.
This above example is also true for other synthetic nutrients as found in Category 2 products.
Identifying the real source of the nutrients (naturally occurring or synthetic) in a Category 2 supplement by reading the label is more tricky than reading a Category 1 or Category 3 food supplement label.
This is because the Category 2 labels often seem subtly misleading in some ways. They want you to assume that their claimed potencies are coming from naturally occurring sources even if they are not and for most consumers this illusory approach has worked for many years. Now it is time to awaken to the truth.
If you read the Category 2 label carefully and follow the example as above you can determine if the product contains synthetic ingredients and falls into Category 2.
Here is my opinion about eating yeast as used in many Category 2 food supplements or eating any yeast for that matter.
I think yeast is toxic. Yeast was never a traditional food on its own. It is a fungus. Unlike certain mushroom fungi, yeast has never been a traditional, main-stream, stand alone food. It is a natural and intuitive choice of many people to avoid yeast all together. Some yeasts react like MSG or other toxic substances in the body.
Many people are allergic to yeast since the body often has an adverse reaction to ingested yeast. We don't know everything about the dangers of yeast and so to be safe I never recommend eating it.
These supplements are the most widely distributed and utilized food supplements in the USA and the world. Many of these products contain synthetic vitamins and nutrients and you can know this quite easily by reading their labels.
The Category 3 supplements make no effort to hide the fact that many of their products contain synthetic, man-made chemically compounded nutrients.
I consider Category 3 food supplements to be ordinary even highly toxic as compared to Category 1 supplements which have no synthetics. They are also usually of much less quality than Category 2 supplements.
When you read a Category 3 food supplement label of a product that contains synthetic nutrients it is usually clear that they are synthetic.
For Example: If you purchase a Category 3 Multiple Vitamin food supplement it will list the synthetic vitamins it contains in the "Supplement Facts" box on the label. What you will see are references to various vitamins such as Vitamin C which will be described as "Ascorbic acid" or "Sodium ascorbate" or something similar - these are synthetic forms of vitamin C. You may also see references to other synthetic nutrients such as Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) as "Thiamine HCL" or something similar. The "HCL" means the chemical Hydrochloric acid form of the synthetic vitamin or nutrient. Other synthetic nutrients listed in the multiple may have chemical sounding names as well. If they have one synthetic vitamin in the multiple vitamin then it is likely they have more than one and probably all of their nutrient ingredients may be synthetic.
Usually, Category 3 food supplements use only the synthetic versions of nutrient ingredients which are cheap to manufacture and which allows the company brand to increase their profit margins. Unless it is an emergency, I never recommend using Category 3 supplements since they are generally the lowest quality and filled with toxic synthetics.
The above information should help you to begin reading food supplement labels with more discrimination and allow you to make choices about you may not know that you had as related to food supplement categories.
If you would like further and more detailed information I recommend reading the book, "Supplements Exposed" by Dr. Brian Clement which is available from booksellers and it is also available online from vendors like Amazon.com.
My best to you in health and happiness!
© Dr. Winfield Treadway, 2013