Supplement Labels Don’t Have to be Scary

Supplement Labels Don’t Have to be Scary

ARTICLE BY | Dan Stearns

Whether you’ve been shopping at health food stores for decades or are just starting down a supplemental path, reading labels can seem daunting. But fear not. With a little decoding, their messages become clear. Here is a summary of some of the most common terms you’ll see on a supplement label, using our Curamin® as an example.

Serving Size: This is simply the amount set by the manufacturer that equals one supplement dosage.
Curamin® supplement label
Servings Per Container: This gives you a clue as to the recommendations (seen elsewhere on the label). On this 30-count bottle of Curamin, the serving size is three capsules, so there are 10 servings per bottle.

Amount Per Serving: This is the amount of ingredients per one serving size. If you’re taking a multivitamin, for instance, that may have variable serving sizes, you may need to add or subtract the levels of nutrients that you’re getting from any calculations.

Daily Value (DV): For many nutrients—but not all— the daily value or “DV” is generally the same as what is called the “Recommended Daily Allowance” or RDA that was seen on labels in the past. The daily values for nutrients, if they have been established, often vary by age and for men, women, and children. And the labeled daily values can change if there is a consensus on how much of a nutrient a person needs. For example, for many years, the RDA of vitamin D for adults was 200 IU (international units) daily. Over time, that increased to 400 IU daily, but it is not unusual to see recommendations of 600 to 2,000 IU daily—and even more.

In this case of this Curamin label, there have not been daily values established for the ingredients included in the proprietary complex. That is why you’ll see the two asterisks (**) in place of a number. This is often the case with botanicals like curcumin and boswellia, whether they are in a single-ingredient, stand-alone supplement, or part of a larger formula.

Proprietary Complex: This blend of ingredients is specific to a manufacturer, so you won’t see these ingredients listed with separate milligram amounts, but as a combination. The order the ingredients are listed is deliberate: the ingredient in largest amount is listed first, followed by the next largest, and so on.

Standardized: When an herbal extract is listed as “standardized”, that means that it has a consistent, measured level of specific compounds. In the case of the boswellia on this Curamin label, it means that of the amount boswellia in the formula, it is standardized to contain at least 70% boswellic acids, and of those at least 10% are a specific type of boswellia acid called acetyl-11-keto-b-boswellic acid, better known as AKBA. This indicates the levels of beneficial compounds for this botanical in the formula.

Other Terms You’ll See on Supplement Labels:

Non-GMO: This is understandably a big concern. Genetically-modified organisms, or GMOs. Simply put, these foods take genetic material from one organism and put it into another. When a product is labeled as non-GMO is means that it is third-party certified to not contain any ingredients that have been genetically modified.

Vegan: This means that there are no animal products used in the main ingredients, excipients, production, or capsule of a supplement. Vegan supplements can appeal to any customer, regardless of diet.

Clinically Studied: This means that the ingredient or formula has research in a clinical setting with actual human beings to show that it works. There are various standards for clinical research; having it controlled for diet and other medications, making sure that the researchers (and, obviously, the participants) don’t know the placebo from the natural medicine, and other factors. But the important thing is, a supplement that is clinically studied brings real results to the table.

Kosher or Halal Certified: Kosher or Halal certification means that a supplement complies with purity and the appropriate process of manufacturing so it is compatible with an observed Kosher or Halal diet.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask!
There are a lot of terms to navigate when you read supplement labels, and there are frequently terms and statements that are footnoted with an asterisk or other symbols, so don’t be surprised if you encounter them.

One of the best things about shopping at a favorite health food store is that there are experts nearby who can answer any questions you have. If you see something on a label that seems new, feel free to ask—they’d be happy to help!


Dan is a health and medical writer who primarily focuses on botanical ingredients, whole foods, and natural medicine. He is fascinated with traditional medicine practices and has a diverse background in reporting, editing, publishing, and marketing.

†Occasional muscle pain due to exercise or overuse