We take out the confusion and define dietary supplement terms for you
Understanding all the supplement terms can be confusing. It’s important to know your options and what you are putting into your body. Here’s our ultimate guide to dietary supplement definitions that will help you better understand the differences among all the choices out there.
Best Buy Date: refers to the date recommended that you use the product by for best physical and/or sensory quality. It is not an expiration date, but rather the date by which consumption is recommended. You may continue to take the product after the best buy date, if it still maintains good sensory and quality characteristics. Your decision should depend on several factors, including how the product has been stored and whether or not the product is discolored, rancid, or noticeably changed.
Capsule: refers to the two-piece gelatin or cellulose capsules that are widely used in supplements. They have significant space and potency limitations since their powdered contents cannot be compressed to a significant degree. Capsules are generally easier to swallow than tablets.
Colony Forming Unit (CFU): a measure of probiotic potency, or the number of microorganisms present in a sample. It represents individual colonies of bacteria, yeast or mold.
Daily Value: The amount of nutrients needed daily to prevent the development of disease in most people. Daily values are based on a 2000 calorie diet for adults and children up to 4 years of age. Not all products have a daily value. Only if a product has a nutrient determined necessary by public health officials will a daily value be listed on a label.
Enteric Coating: a coating which is designed to hold the tablet together when in the acid environment of the stomach and gets released the in the intestines.
Gelatin: used to make capsules, a flavorless food derived from collagen obtained from various animal by-products.
Herbal Extract: herbal extract manufacturers extract the main active component of an herb from the whole plant. That extraction, once separated can be left in liquid form, or the liquid removed to produce a solid extract.
Herb-to-Solvent or Herb Strength Ratio: ratios are represented as numbers. In the example below: 4:1 means 4 parts herb to 1 part solvent or liquid. The higher the number on the left of the “:”, the more concentrated the end product, whereas, when the number on the right of the “:” is higher, a greater dilution is indicated.
International Units (IU): IU is an internationally accepted amount of a substance. This type of measure is used for the fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D and E).
Liquid Supplements: are usually best used by people who have a hard time swallowing supplements in pill form. Sometimes liquid supplements may be more absorbable than a capsule or tablet, but the difference is pretty minimal. Liquids tend to be priced higher, often times need to be refrigerated and typically have a shorter shelf-life than tablets or capsules.
Magnesium Stearate: acts as a lubricant to help products flow through equipment more easily. It is non-toxic and considered safe.
Maltodextrin: used as thickening agent. Often times it is used when the consistency of a powder is too thin to effectively run through encapsulation machines. Maltodextrin is usually derived from potato or rice byproducts. If it is derived from wheat, it must be stated on the label.
Milligram/Microgram/Gram: Mgs, Mcgs, and Gms measure the weight of an ingredient.
1000 milligrams (mg) is a unit of mass equal to 1 gram and 1000 micrograms (mcg) is equal to 1 milligram (mg).
Each weight is used according to how much of one ingredient is necessary. Gram being used for the most and microgram for the least, trace amounts.
Powder: for supplements taken in gram quantities powders are much more practical. For example, a typical 5-gram serving of creatine is easy to take; a small scoop of tasteless powder mixed in with water or juice. But to get that same dose with capsules, you’d need 10 x 500 mg capsules or 5 extra-large 1g capsules. Generally powders should be taken on an empty stomach to increase attachment to the intestinal wall.
Serving Size: is a measured amount of food or drink.
Softgel: one-piece, typically gelatin capsules, almost exclusively used for liquid or oil-based formulas.
Standardized Herbal Extract (as a percentage): the standardization of herbs, usually expressed as a percentage, guarantee you are getting a product in which the chemistry is consistent from batch to batch. The higher the percentage, the more powerful the dose.
In the images below the product on the bottom is more potent even though there are less milligrams of olive leaf because the % of the active ingredient, oleuropein, is higher. You may think the one on the bottom is three times as strong as the one on the top because 18 is three times more than 6, but this isn’t the case.
To figure out how many milligrams of the active ingredient are in a product you take the number of milligrams X the percentage.
In the product on the top: there is 30mg of oleuropein (500 x 6%)
The product on the bottom: there is 72mg of oleuropein (400 x 18%)
Another shortcut is to multiply 5 x 6 and 4 x 18.
Sublingual: a product that dissolves under the tongue into the bloodstream. Typically these get absorbed more quickly because they do not go through your digestive system.
Tablet: allows the most material to be packed into a given space. This is why products with many ingredients, such as a multivitamin are tablets. Tablets are the most shelf-stable choice and retain their potency over a longer time than liquids, powders and most capsules.
Veggie Caps/Hydroxypropyl Methylcellulose/Vegetable Cellulose: a vegetarian form of gelatin that is derived from plant fiber. Used to make capsules.
Whole Herb: whole herbs contain all of the constituents of the plant. Usually dried and encapsulated or processed and preserved in alcohol or another solvent.