How to Read Nutrition Labels vs Supplement Labels

Knowing how to read nutrition labels and supplement labels is more important than you might think. For example, did you know that the FDA does not regulate most dietary supplements? 

Some supplements, like ProT Gold Liquid Collagen Protein, do use nutrition labels though. 

ProT Gold is a medical food, and the FDA regulates it. This means that ProT Gold is a medical nutrition product and is backed by various studies and third party sources confirming the many medical uses of collagen

Not all supplements can be classified as medical nutrition, and that’s why they have to use supplement specific labels on their products, whereas ProT Gold uses a nutrition label. It’s good to know how to read nutrition labels so you can tell what kind of product you are getting. 

We put together a few ways to help you tell the difference and learn how to read nutrition labels and supplement labels. This will ensure that you are getting a quality product from a reputable company when you do invest in a supplement. 

What’s the difference between nutrition labels and supplement labels?

To most consumers, how to read nutrition labels and supplement labels might look nearly identical, as they both require similar content. 

Do you know how to read nutrition labels and tell the difference between the two?  Here are some of the ways you can distinguish between them:

  • Supplement labels usually include an FDA disclaimer of some kind (i.e., this product isn’t approved by the FDA). 
  • Supplements require all the sources of the ingredients to be listed, but nutrition labels don’t permit this (i.e., supplements will list collagen from bovine, whereas nutrition labels are restricted to listing only collagen). 
  • Supplement labels do not include the Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) or Dietary Reference Values (DRV). Only nutrition labels require both. 
  • Nutrition labels have to indicate nutrients in the food, usually listing a “0” next to any nutrients on the list that are not included. You cannot use “0” as an indicator on supplement labels. 

These are all subtle differences, which is why it’s hard to tell the difference when looking at supplements. But how to read nutrition labels and supplement labels - and actually interpret the information - is different because of how they’re required to list the dietary information. 

How to read nutrition labels

The nutrition labels you see on a package of food are all regulated by the FDA. That means that they must follow very specific guidelines regarding what is included (and not included) on the label. While that’s good to know, sometimes understanding how to read nutrition labels can be confusing.

The easiest way to learn how to read nutrition labels is to break them down into sections. There are four main sections of a nutrition label:

  1. Serving Information 
  2. Calories
  3. Nutrients 
  4. Percent Daily Value (%DV)

This information will vary with every food product, but those four sections will always be included. 

Learn more about how to read nutrition labels on the FDA website

Serving Information 

At the top of a nutrition label is the number of servings in the package. The servings of the package include the servings-per-container and the serving size. 

Serving sizes are standardized in familiar units like cups or pieces, but they also include the metric amount. Serving sizes are a reflection of how much people typically consume of that product in one sitting. 

The serving size is especially important because the rest of the nutrition label is based on that amount. The nutrient amounts and calories are all based on the size of the serving. 

Calories

Another thing to pay attention to when learning how to read nutrition labels is calories. The calories of a food product measure how much energy you get from a serving. 

So, if you eat an entire package of something that has three servings, you would need to multiply the number of calories by three to know how many calories you consumed. 

Nutrients 

The next section of a nutrition label is the nutrients section. These are some of the key nutrients you should be aware of that impact your overall health. The main nutrients listed in this section are:

  • Total Fat (including saturate and trans fat)
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Carbohydrates (including fiber, total sugars, and added sugars)
  • Protein

All food labels will list these nutrients in the order above. They may also list some other nutrients in the section below, including specific vitamins. Most average Americans do not get enough dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, or potassium, which is why they are included on nutrition labels. 

Next to the nutrient, you will notice a number along with the metric measurement (grams or mcg, mg, etc.). The number listed is how much of that nutrient is included in a serving. For instance, you’ll notice on the ProT Gold nutrition label that it includes 17.5g of total protein per serving. Note that this is per serving, not per container.

Quick Guide to Percent Daily Value (%DV)

Within the same central box on the nutrition facts label (but to the far right), you will notice the % Daily Value (%DV) listed next to the nutrient it is measuring. At the bottom of the nutrition facts box, you will notice a %DV disclaimer:

“The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.” 

The %DV helps to show the consumer how much one nutrient within a serving of that food contributes to their total daily diet. For example, we know that ProT Gold has 17.5g of protein per serving. Moving to the right of the metric amount of protein included, you will see that equals 35% of the Daily Value. 

The purpose of listing the %DV on food products is to help the consumer determine if one serving of that product is high or low in a nutrient. To really know how to read nutrition labels, it would be helpful to know what that looks like in numeric terms.

According to the FDA, in general, 5% DV or less per serving is considered low, and 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is high. 

How to read supplement labels 

A supplement label will honestly look almost identical to a nutrition facts label. But the facts on dietary supplements do have specific labeling requirements from the FDA. 

These supplement fact labels are required to include the ingredients (and quantities) when there is no established daily value. 

Since the FDA does not regulate most supplements’ effectiveness or safety in the same way that it regulates the quality of food or drugs, reading your dietary supplement’s label is important. 

The best way to do this is to pay specific attention to the recommended dosage, ingredients, quality, and health claims. Under US law, dietary supplements cannot legally make health claims that they can cure or treat any diseases. If they do make a health claim, they must be backed by strong scientific evidence demonstrating a direct link to a specific condition. 

Dietary supplements can state that they may reduce the risk or severity of a condition, but they cannot claim to cure or treat it. If you come across a supplement that makes these health claims without supporting them with sound scientific evidence, you should avoid that company as these are considered fraudulent statements. 

According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), phrases to look out for that may indicate fraud within dietary supplements include: 

  • Secret ingredient(s)
  • Ancient remedy or medical practice 
  • Exclusive product release or free product trial 
  • Miraculous results 

When you read the actual supplement fact label, you will notice similar terminology to a nutrition fact label, which is why learning how to read nutrition labels can help you understand your supplements. 

Supplement labels can be broken down into the following sections: 

  1. Serving Size
  2. Amount Per Serving 
  3. Percent Daily Value (%DV)
  4. Ingredients 
  5. Disclaimer 

Most supplements will also include an expiration date of some kind and storage instructions within the supplement facts label. 

Serving Size

The serving size is the amount recommended by the company to consume. For this section, you are not relying on the FDA regulations any longer, but the company’s suggested serving size. 

Dietary supplements should theoretically all be tested for toxicity. However, many of these studies are conducted on animals. Unless they provide specific human trials or clinical data for the supplement, you can assume that the serving size is an estimate. 

Amount Per Serving 

Supplements are not required to list calories, but they will be listed in the “amount per serving” section if they are included. This section lists the nutrients within the supplement along with the amount which is provided in metric units like grams, milligrams, etc. 

Supplements do not have to list the nutrients that are not included in the product. So, if it only contains protein, sodium, and potassium, that is all that will be listed. 

Percent Daily Value (%DV)

To the right of the nutrients and the amount per serving, you will have the %DV listed. For supplements, these are measured according to the Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) from the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine.

While these are updated periodically to reflect new scientific findings, if you see an asterisk next to a %DV on a supplement, no value has been formally established yet.  

Ingredients 

Always look at the ingredients listed on a supplement. These ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. To avoid low-quality supplements, look for ingredients like preservatives, additives, fillers, or sweeteners. 

Disclaimer 

Dietary supplements will usually include the following disclaimer or one very similar:

“This product has not been evaluated by the FDA and does not diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

These disclaimers are required for dietary supplements by the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994.

Medical foods use nutrition labels 

Although ProT Gold is a collagen protein supplement, it is also a medical food. Since it is approved by the FDA as a medical food, it uses a nutrition label and is often used for medical nutrition therapy. It’s important to learn how to read nutrition labels, so you can spot the difference between supplement labels that are potential scams and find high quality products. 

Unlike most supplement labels' claims, ProT Gold is backed by science or medical case studies, not to mention trusted for use by over 3,000 medical facilities. We want to make sure you feel like you can trust us too, which is why we are teaching you how to read nutrition labels - so you can make an informed decision for your body.