Use Dietary Supplements Wisely

Use Dietary Supplements Wisely

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MS/LIS
Posted March 08, 2017

Background

Many Americans take dietary supplements in an effort to stay healthy. Although high-quality clinical trials (studies in people) have confirmed the benefits of some dietary supplements, key questions remain about the safety and usefulness of others.

Some supplements can play an important role in health. For example, Calcium and Vitamin D are important for keeping bones strong. Pregnant women can take the Vitamin Folic Acid to prevent certain birth defects in their babies.

Some other dietary supplements have been shown to cause serious harm. For example, the herbs Comfrey and Kava can cause severe damage to the liver.

Still other dietary supplements have not gone through high-quality clinical trials, so there is not enough scientific evidence to support their use.

One reason for limited clinical trials is that large carefully controlled medical studies are costly. Clinical trials for conventional drugs are often funded by large companies that develop and sell prescription drugs. Fewer resources are available to support scientific research on many dietary supplements.

Federal Regulation of Dietary Supplements

The Federal Government regulates dietary supplements through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the regulations for dietary supplements are not the same as those for prescription or over-the-counter drugs.

A manufacturer of a dietary supplement does not have to provide the FDA with data that demonstrate the safety of the product before it is marketed. In contrast, manufacturers of drugs have to provide the FDA with evidence that their products are both safe and effective before the drugs can be sold.

Unlike drugs, supplements are not intended to cure, diagnosis, prevent, or treat diseases. This means that supplements should not make claims, such as, reduces pain, or treats heart disease. Claims like these can be made legitimately only for drugs, not dietary supplements.

How to Take a Dietary Supplement as Safely as Possible

A reliable, free, and up-to-date consumer source for information about health issues is the website of MedlinePlus, produced by the National Library of Medicine, the world’s largest medical library.

MedlinePlus publishes health topic pages that you can visit to learn about conditions, diseases, and wellness issues.

For example, the MedlinePlus topic page for Dietary Supplements explains how to take a supplement as safely as possible.

  • Tell your health care provider about any dietary supplements you use.
  • If you are going to have surgery, it is particularly important that you talk with your medical doctor about the dietary supplements that you take.
  • Do not take a bigger dose than the label recommends.
  • Read trustworthy information about the supplement.

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) was established to conduct research on the usefulness and safety of complementary and integrative interventions, including dietary supplements, and to make the findings available to the public.

The NCCIH has published a free online fact sheet, called Using Dietary Supplements Wisely. The fact sheet provides a general overview of dietary supplements, discusses safety considerations, and suggests sources for additional information.

If you are considering taking a dietary supplement, talk first with your conventional medical doctor. He or she can access information to help you to understand possible risks and benefits before you buy and use a dietary supplement.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your conventional medical doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your conventional medical doctor.

Selected Information Resources

National Health Interview Survey 2012. Use of Complementary Health Approaches in the U.S.
Summary Note: The 2012 National Health Interview Survey provides the most comprehensive information on the use of complementary health approaches in the United States.
(Accessed 06 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Five Myths about Popular Natural Products Marketed for Disease Prevention and Wellness
Summary Note: Fact sheet with brief statements about popular beliefs that are myths, related to specific Natural Products.
(Accessed 04 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Herbs at a Glance.
Summary Note: Series of fact sheets providing evidence-based information on 50 herbs and botanicals. Fact sheets include common names, potential side effects, what the science says, and resources for more information
(Accessed 04 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Understanding Drug-Supplement Interactions
Summary Note: Series of 13 slides asks you true or false questions, followed by correct answers, about your understanding of interactions between dietary supplements and prescription or over-the-counter drugs.
(Accessed 04 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Using Dietary Supplements Wisely.
Summary Note: Fact sheet written in plain language to help you to decide whether a dietary supplement is safe or useful. Nine subheadings include Key Points, Safety Considerations, and References. Emphasis is on the need to talk with your doctor before you buy a dietary supplement.
(Accessed 05 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Aging. Health and Aging. AgePage. Beware of Health Scams.
Summary Note: Explains why people fall for false sales pitches. Advises how to protect yourself from health scams. Lists helpful resources with addresses and phone numbers. Topic focus is on health and aging, but relevant for adults of any age.
(Accessed 04 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. U.S. National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. Dietary Supplements.
Summary Note: Good place to begin learning about the benefits and risks of dietary supplements, with subheadings on Definitions, What You Need to Know, and Specifics on various types of dietary supplements. Includes separate sections on Children, Teenagers, Seniors, and Women.
(Accessed 08 March 2017)

National Institutes of Health. Office of Dietary Supplements.  Botanical Dietary Supplements.
Summary Note: Explains that the word, natural, on a product label does not necessarily mean, safe. And, the word, standardized, on a label does not necessarily indicate product quality. Encourages you to talk with your healthcare providers (medical doctor, registered dietician, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Dietary Supplements: What You Need to Know.
Summary Note: Explains benefits and risks of dietary supplements. Suggests how to be a Smart Supplement Shopper. Steps on how to Report Problems to the FDA.
(Accessed 08 March 2017)

 

Nutrition Facts Label Changes to Include Added Sugars

Nutrition Facts Label Changes to Include Added Sugars

Information Resources

By Evelyn Cunico, MA, MSLIS
Posted May 30, 2016

Background

On May 20, 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) updated the Original Nutrition Facts label that you see on most packaged foods sold in the United States.

The New Nutrition Facts label is easier to read and is consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 to 2020.

Food manufacturers have until July 26, 2018 to begin using the New Nutrition Facts label, so when you visit your food store, you may see either the Original Nutrition Facts label or the New Nutrition Facts label.

The Nutrition Facts label is a leading source of scientific information regarding calories, fat, and other nutrients. Learning how to use the Nutrition Facts label is an important step towards reducing your risk of heart disease and obesity.

New Label – What is Different

You may wish to compare the Original vs. New Label Format in the FDA document titled, Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label

Added Sugars

A major difference between the Original Nutrition Facts label and the New Nutrition Facts label is that the New Nutrition Facts label must include, under Total Sugars, the amount of added sugars, to help consumers understand how much sugar has been added to the food product. Naturally occurring sugars are found naturally in foods, such as fresh fruit and milk lactose. Added sugars are sugars that are put into foods during preparation or processing.

Limiting calories from added sugars is one of the Key Elements of Healthy Eating Patterns, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 to 2020.

According to nationwide food consumption surveys, Americans get about 13 percent of their total calories from added sugars, with major sources being sugar-sweetened beverages (such as, alcoholic beverages, coffee and tea, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and soft drinks) and snacks and sweets (such as, candies, dairy desserts, grain-based desserts, jams, syrups, and sweet toppings).

The FDA recognizes that added sugars can be a part of a healthy diet. However, FDA reminds consumers that it is difficult to also eat foods with enough dietary fiber and essential vitamins and minerals and still stay within calorie limits, if  you consume more than ten percent of your total daily calories from added sugars.

The updates to the Nutrition Facts label help to increase consumer awareness of the quantity of added sugars in foods.

Nutrients

The nutrients required on the New Nutrition Facts label have changed. Also, the amount of each nutrient must be included. Americans do not always get enough Vitamin D and Potassium. So, food manufacturers must include these nutrients on the New Nutrition Facts label.

Vitamin D is important for its role in bone health. Potassium helps to lower blood pressure. Calcium and iron are already required on the label and will continue to be on the New Nutrition Facts label.

Vitamin A and Vitamin C will not be required on the New Nutrition Facts label, because, although American diets lacked Vitamin A and Vitamin C in the early 1990s, these deficiencies have become rare in the general population. Food manufacturers may still list these vitamins voluntarily.

Serving Sizes and Calories

The serving sizes and calories are in larger and bolder type. And, the serving sizes have been updated. By law, serving sizes must be based on what people eat, not on what they should be eating. How much people eat and drink has changed since the previous serving size requirements were published in 1993. For example, a serving of soda has changed from eight ounces to twelve ounces.

Label Footnote

The New Nutrition Facts label footnote has been clarified. The Percent Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. For general nutrition advice, 2,000 calories is used for a daily diet.

How to Make the Nutrition Facts Label Work for You: Ask Yourself Questions

The best way to make the Nutrition Facts label work for you is to ask yourself questions about what you see on the label.

Serving Size

Ask yourself how many servings there are in the package. Then, ask yourself, “How many servings am I consuming?”

For example, are you consuming one-half serving, one serving, or more? If one serving is one cup and you eat an entire package of two servings, you would be eating two cups. That doubles the calories and the other nutrient numbers.

Calories

The calorie section of the Nutrition Facts label can help you to manage your weight, that is, to gain, to lose, or to maintain. As a General Guide to Calories, 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories is high.

Let’s say that a package contains two servings, and there are 250 calories in one serving, with 110 of those calories from fat. What if you ate the entire package content? Then, you would be eating two servings or 500 calories, and 220 calories would come from fat.

These questions and others are in the FDA document, titled, How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label  Although How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label was created before the New Nutrition Facts label was finalized, it presents label-building skills, guiding you on how to use nutrition labels to make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet.

Disclaimer: The information presented in this blog should not replace the medical advice of your doctor. You should not use this information to diagnose or to treat any disease, illness, or other health condition without first consulting with your medical doctor or other healthcare provider.

Selected Information Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey
Summary Note: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) assesses the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States by using nationwide food consumption surveys that combine interviews and physical examinations.
(Accessed 20 May 2016)

Health dot Gov. Official website of Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 to 2020   Eighth Edition.
Summary Note: Dietary Guidelines for Americans are updated every five years, based on current scientific evidence.
(Accessed 20 May 2016)

U.S. Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate dot Gov. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015 to 2020. Dietary Guidelines and MyPlate
Summary Note: ChooseMyPlate helps to communicate how consumers can put the Dietary Guidelines into daily practice. Includes family food activities and sample menus.
(Accessed 20 May 2016)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. About FDA. Significant Dates in U.S. Food and Drug Law History
Summary Note: List of milestones in U.S. Food and Drug Law History. Includes descriptive paragraph on Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, 1990.
(Accessed 30 May 2016)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Labeling and Nutrition. Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label  Food Guidance Regulation issued on May 20, 2016.
Summary Note: This document highlights changes to the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. Discusses the link between diet and chronic diseases, such as obesity and heart disease. Includes questions and answers with a Side-by-Side Comparison of Label Format: Original vs. New.
(Accessed 20 May 2016)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Labeling and Nutrition. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label
Summary Note: Based on the Original Label Format, this document is useful because it provides step-by-step instructions on how you can make quick, informed food choices by building your label reading skills. This document was issued in June 2000 and updated July 2003 and November 2004. Includes sample labels and examples.
(Accessed 21 May 2016)

U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Press Announcements. FDA Modernizes Nutrition Facts Label for Packaged Foods  FDA News Release. May 20, 2016.
Summary Note: The FDA news release lists Key Updates of the Nutrition Facts food label to help consumers make informed food choices.
(Accessed 20 May 2016)

U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990  Public Law 104 STAT. 2353. 101st Congress. 1990.
Summary Note: Act amended the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to prescribe nutrition labeling for foods.
(Accessed 30 May 2016)