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Vitamin label reading

( NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -- "Few people know how much of a vitamin or mineral they should be taking daily, and the recently updated RDA standards can compound the confusion," said Lynn Moss M.S, R.D.

"We thought it was relevant to give information on how to read a vitamin label so that people can make informed decisions at the vitamin counter."

Moss recommends consumers be knowledgeable about the following 10 tips when purchasing vitamins, minerals or other dietary supplements.

1. "% Daily Value" or "% DV" on the label is the percentage of the Daily Value, a value created by the FDA for food and supplement labeling. It's based on and is a simplification of the RDA, but doesn't take into account age or gender as the RDAs do. If the "% Daily Value" noted is 50%, then you will receive half of the FDA recommended daily dosage of that supplement contained in one serving.

2. Serving Size -- This shows the consumer how many tablets they need to take to reach the recommended percent Daily Value or the amounts represented on the label. People often assume that by taking one supplement a day, they are satisfying the recommended Daily Value. This is not always the case; consumers should read their labels carefully for the percentage of the Daily Value they are getting from one serving.

3. Scientific units such as "I.U.", "mg" and "mcg" are different ways of measuring the amounts of vitamins and minerals in each tablet or soft gel. "I.U.," or "International Unit," is the global standard for measuring fat-soluble vitamins and minerals (e.g. vitamins A, D and E). Water-soluble vitamins and supplements, such as B vitamins and vitamin C, are measured in milligrams (mg) and micrograms (mcg); one milligram (1/1000 of a gram) is equal to 1000 micrograms. Minerals that are needed in smaller amounts in the body are also measured in micrograms.

4. Necessary nutrients without Daily Values, such as Boron and Nickel, are contained in supplements to help consumers gain health benefits from substances for which the Institute of Medicine has not yet established guidelines.

5. Hotline and Web site for help. Dietary supplements that promote a toll-free number and Web site are indicators that a manufacturer is interested in sharing information with the public and is available to answer consumer questions.

6. Expiration dates are put on vitamin bottles to let consumers know how long the contents will be effective. After the expiration date, the vitamins will have aged to a point that they no longer contain the "% Daily Value" indicated on the bottle.

7. 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.

8. Suggested Use information helps consumers safely and accurately obtain the "% Daily Value" annotated on the bottle along with other useful instructions, such as when the supplement should be taken and the best place it should be stored.

9. Warnings help to alert consumers about protective safety seals on the product (which should remain intact at time of purchase) and help caution them of the potential adverse effects of taking a supplement. People on prescription medication, pregnant or lactating mothers, or people with allergies should look for warnings on package labels. Quality manufacturers will alert consumers about taking a supplement under such conditions and suggest they contact a health care provider before taking a the product.

10. Quality statements represent a manufacturer's promise to offer high-quality, standardized products, and can come in the form of quality statements on the bottle or quality seals. Consumers should look for a name they recognize on these emblems or a seal from a health group that endorses the brand.

"All it takes is just a few minutes to read a vitamin label correctly," said Moss. "Armed with information about how to maintain or take control of our own health, we can all make the right decisions that will help us to lead a healthier lifestyle."

(c) 2004

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