The Language of Labels - Navigating the ins and outs of natural health supplements

Posted: 01-01-2016
The Language of LabelsScanning health food store shelves for the latest-and-greatest in health and nutrition supplements is no small task. Today’s market offers an overwhelming amount of choice, and navigating the options can be daunting. With the selection expanding every day, how do you ensure that you make the right choice? 

Fortunately, a little label reading know-how can go a long way to helping you make the right choices for your health – and your dollar!

Does the product have a Natural Product Number (NPN)?

An NPN appears as an eight-digit number on the product’s label. An assigned NPN on the label means that Health Canada has assessed and approved a natural product to be safe, effective and of high quality. 

Does the product use high-quality, proven ingredients with specific dosages?

When it comes to the listing of ingredients, avoid products with a laundry list of natural ingredients with no dosages assigned. This can indicate that there are no specific standards set for efficacy - like mg dosages or active constituents within the ingredients. Look for numerical mg and/or standardized measurements in percentages or ratios. 

Learn the language of labels.

When you pick up a product – is it cluttered with distracting and vague marketing terms? Loose standards and definitions around these terms allows for a lot of grey area when it comes to using them on product’s label. Check for statements that clearly state the product’s intended use, and find out if the company has other information available about their product.

Learn to distinguish between effective ingredients and fillers.

Certain things are used to bolster formulas (or make them look healthier than they are). Take a look at the ingredient list for any additions that seem out of place, and double check the hard-to-pronounce ones.

Is the product free from artificial colours, flavours and sweeteners, or just labeled ‘natural’?

Take a closer look at the fine print to know exactly what you’re putting in your body, and what you’re not. A label should offer a complete ingredient list, as well as highlight any potential allergens the product contains or is free from.

Read the fine print.

Some supplements may contain ingredients that can potentially interact with other medications (both prescription and over-the-counter). Be sure that the supplements you choose are suitable for your health care routine– when in doubt, ask your pharmacist or reach out to the brand’s customer support team. 

Labels tell more than one story. Take your time when selecting a supplement, and make sure that you are getting top quality. Discuss the addition of a natural supplement to your health regimen with a member of your health care team.

For more information, please see The Arthritis Society’s Guide to Nutrition.

Our thanks to Genuine Health for assistance with this article.


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