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Vitamin Labels – What You Need to Know

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By Shawna Page, Founder and CEO of femMED

Thousands of people take supplements everyday, but few people know what is actually in the supplements they take. Knowing what to look for on a vitamin label will help you pick the right product for you and your family.

Medicinal Ingredients per capsule: Medicinal (or active) ingredients are those ingredients responsible for the supplement’s effect. The common name for the ingredient is often listed first with the source of the ingredient in brackets immediately following. The ingredient dosages are usually listed per capsule rather than daily dosage so keep this in mind when you review the panel.

Natural versus Synthetic: Natural vitamins are in a form that occurs in nature while synthetic vitamins are manufactured in a laboratory. There is much debate about whether synthetic is inferior to natural but there is consensus that the natural form of vitamin E (d-alpha tocopheryl) is better utilized by the body than its synthetic counterpart (dl-alpha-tocopheryl).

Scientific Units of Measure: Different scientific units are used for measuring the amounts of vitamins and minerals. An international unit (I.U.) is the global standard for measuring fat-soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E and K). Water-soluble vitamins and minerals are measured in milligrams (mg) and micrograms (mcg); one milligram (1/1000 of a gram) is equal to 1000 micrograms.


This is a list of compounds that do not directly contribute to the nutrient in the supplement, but instead aid in functions such as tablet integrity, proper digestion or preservation of shelf life.

When it comes to choosing a nutritional supplement what is NOT in the product is just as important as what is. Be sure to carefully examine the NON-MEDICAL ingredients, sometimes called excipients. Many popular brands contain fillers, preservatives, glazes, sweeteners, artificial colors, binders, deodorizers, chemicals and potential allergens, such as lactose, gluten, dyes and gelatin. Some products include chemicals like titanium dioxide and sodium benzoate, which can be associated with significant health risks.

This Product Does Not Contain

This explains what is NOT in the product, for instance gluten, yeast, egg, dairy etc. and is very important for those people who may have allergies to certain ingredients.


Supplements come in all forms including; tablets, capsules, softgels, liquids, chewables and powders. Let’s examine the different formats.

  • Tablets are less expensive to manufacture than other formats, however they are sometimes the only method available to deliver bulky ingredients like calcium.
  • Caplets are tablets that are smaller in size and have a smooth coating, making them as easy to swallow as capsules.
  • Capsules There are two forms of capsules, hard capsules and soft capsules. Hard capsules are for powders or semi-solid preparations and soft capsules for liquids.
  • Vegetable caps (Veggie caps) are made from cellulose and purified water.
  • Gelatin caps (Gel caps) are made from the collagen extracted from the bones, connective tissues, organs and some intestines of animals such as domesticated cattle, pigs, and horses.
  • Chewables tend to be lower potency when compared to comparable products in tablet and capsule form. They also usually have some sugar and flavorings added.
  • Powders can be very cost-effective on a dollars-per-nutrient basis, but are also the least convenient to use, since they must be mixed into a liquid, shake or a food.
  • Liquid supplements are always more expensive on a dollars-per-nutrient basis and their shelf life is shorter than other formats.

Suggested Usage: Provides information to help the consumer safely obtain maximum value from the supplement.

Caution: This area warns consumers of potential adverse effects the supplement could present to individuals such as pregnant or lactating women, people taking certain prescription medications, or people with allergies.

Expiration Date: Expiration dates (EXP) are put on vitamin bottles to let consumers know how long the contents will be effective.

Lot Number: A lot number (is a series of letters and numbers important for tracking the supplement’s history in case there are any specific questions concerning the product purchased. The Lot number is often printed on the bottom of the bottle along with the expiration date.

Contact info: A reputable vitamin distributor will provide their Web site, and address on the label so that consumers can reach them. Be weary of any supplement that doesn’t clearly contain contact information on the label.


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