Guide to Dietary Supplement Labels


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What’s In the Bottle? A Smart Shopper’s Guide to Understanding Dietary Supplement Labels

More than 50 percent of people use some sort of dietary supplement daily, including multivitamins, mineral supplements such as calcium or iron, and herbal supplements like Echinacea or garlic, according to the American Dietetic Association. As this multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry grows, so do the number of choices available, so it is increasingly important that savvy shoppers understand exactly what is in the bottles lining store shelves and their own medicine cabinets.

With so much information listed, a dietary supplement label can be difficult to decipher. Here are five important parts of the label the smart shopper should understand.

USP Verified Mark

This mark, located on the front of the bottles of qualifying dietary supplements, assures that the product is “USP Verified.” This verification means that:

  • The product contains the ingredients stated on the label and in the declared amounts.

  • The product does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

  • The product’s ingredients will release and dissolve properly into your body so you can receive the full benefits of the dietary supplement, and

  • The product was made under Good Manufacturing Practices.

The USP Verified program is operated by the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), an independent organization that both sets federally recognized standards for prescription and over-the-counter medicines and dietary supplements, and operates a full-service verification program. Remember to look for the USP Verified Mark next time you choose a vitamin or other supplement.

Percentage Daily Value (% DV)

 This indicates the percentage of the recommended daily value of each nutrient that a supplement serving provides. The recommended daily value is determined by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) based on a 2,000 calorie diet. However, the nutrient needs and number of calories one should consume can vary based on age, gender and other factors like pregnancy. More specific information about nutrient needs based on individual factors can be found from the Institute of Medicine at

It is generally recommended to find products that provide 100 percent of the DV. However, products with higher than 100 percent of a DV should be avoided because too much of some substances, such as vitamins A or K, can cause side effects or complications (and many people already consume many vitamins and nutrients from the foods they eat). Note that most multivitamins do not provide 100 percent of calcium and a separate supplement for this may be necessary.

Consumers should check with their doctors to ensure that the dietary supplement does not include something that could negatively affect their health because of a specific medical condition or other factor. An asterisk (*) indicates no DV has been established for that nutrient.

Other Ingredients

This list shows the consumer all the ingredients that are not listed in the percentage daily value. These ingredients may include inactive components like binders, fillers, colours and flavours. They are listed in decreasing order by weight. Shoppers should always check this section for anything that might cause an allergic reaction.

Additives Statement

This statement indicates whether the product is free of common allergens. However, it is not required, so consumers should examine carefully the “other ingredients” list if a product does not display this statement on the label.

DSHEA Disclaimer

A disclaimer is required if the manufacturer claims that the product has an effect on the structure or function of the body, e.g., “promotes healthy bone density.” If such a claim is made, U.S. law requires it to be followed by a statement that the claim has not been evaluated by FDA. It is illegal for a manufacturer to claim that a dietary supplement can cure, treat, prevent, mitigate or diagnose specific diseases.

Remember, in addition to thoroughly reading the label, consumers should always ask a doctor for advice about taking dietary supplements.

Courtesy of ARA content


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