Reading the Labels on Nutritional Supplements

Reading the Labels on Nutritional Supplements

We often like to write these blogs based on what we see and hear frequently in our office. What we’ve heard recently is that many people have trouble figuring out how to read the nutritional information on their supplements or how to read the nutritional information on their food. But before we get into that, let’s start with the history.

In 1941, the government began to put labels on food to make sure that everyone stayed healthy. Even before that, we knew that we needed a certain amount of certain things to stay healthy. For example, sailors on ships knew they needed to drink lime juice to prevent scurvy. But then we started to quantify that here in the United States in 1941. What came out of that is something called the RDA – recommended daily allowance. You’re not gonna find that on bottles anymore, but if you’re a little older, you might remember the recommended daily allowance, the RDA, which was an attempt to show people the minimum amount of what you need to be healthy. Most people took it at face value and thought, ‘Ok, I need exactly this much.’  But the RDA was actually the minimum amount needed to be healthy. That then morphed into the percentage of daily value, and that’s what you will see on labels today. 

Labels today show the absolute units of certain things, and then, on the right side of your nutritional label, you’ll see the daily value as a percentage. Some of the questions we get are, ‘How should I interpret that?’ and ‘Why are some of these percentage daily values so much higher than 100%?’ The easiest way to think about that daily value is in terms of the minimum amount to keep you from getting diseases. If you don’t have at least this amount every day of vitamin D, you’re gonna get rickets. If you don’t have at least this amount of vitamin C every day, you’re at risk of getting scurvy. We don’t really see these diseases much anymore here in the United States because we get plenty of all of these supplements, fortunately, compared to a lot of other countries. But that percentage of daily value suddenly isn’t doing you much good when you think about it because, as the consumer, this is the minimum amount. So what’s the right amount? What’s the healthy amount? What’s the amount that I should be looking for? It gets really murky. 

You have to dig into research in a variety of different ways from a variety of different sources to really start to get the number that you’re supposed to have. Take, for example, a GNC multivitamin that we found. One hundred percent of the percentage daily value that the FDA recommends for vitamin C is 90 milligrams for men, and this GNC multivitamin has 500% of the daily value, which is 300 milligrams of vitamin C. That amount is closer to some of the research that we found that says you need 1000 milligrams per day. However, this supplement would not give you all that you need per day to be healthy because research shows it should be closer to 1000 milligrams. It would just get you started on that path, and then your diet would have to make it for the rest of it. 

That’s the other piece of the puzzle – if your diet is really good, you’re already getting a great percentage of that daily value from your diet. Do you really need supplements to increase that number? The good news is that for many vitamins, you can’t actually take too much. The potential for harm in taking water-soluble vitamins is really low; you’ll urinate out anything that you don’t need or your body can’t use, so there’s really not a big risk of taking too many, with some exceptions. Vitamins K, A, D, and E are fat-soluble vitamins and are the vitamins that you CAN take too much of. You should have a physician or chiropractor looking after your intake of these vitamins so that you don’t end up taking too much because they can collect in your tissues in a very bad way. 

The bottom line here is that because there’s so much information out there, how do you dissect what you should actually be doing? Do you actually trust the vitamin supplement companies who are trying to get you to buy more? Or do you go by what the federal government suggests? If you go by what the federal government is telling you, all you’re getting is the bare-bones minimum. You’re probably not going to be healthy. Yes, you’ll survive, and yes, you might not get some of these conditions, but it’s not going to be good for you. You need more than just 100% of the percentage daily value. But we understand it’s hard to navigate some of this. Two supplement brands we do recommend (which we are not affiliated with in any way) are Standard Process and Thorne. Their supplements are a great way to ensure that you are getting the actual amount of vitamins that you need and not just the minimum.

We are always available as a resource to you. If you have certain questions, you can email them to Our goal is always to make sure that you stay healthy. We hope this has enlightened you and when you are buying groceries or when you are consuming food, you are taking a look at the labels. It should be something that you pay attention to because even if you’re looking at the macronutrients, proteins, fats, carbohydrates – that can really change the dynamic of your diet. But also, a lot of those micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals are really important to keep track of. You should ensure that you’re getting at least the minimum, which is that daily value; 100% is the minimum again, so make sure that you’re getting to that number. 

About sunshine