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Top 7 ways to decode your vitamins

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How to read vitamin bottles to know what you’re getting!

With hundreds of bottles lining the shelves of your local health food store, the choice can seem overwhelming. Here are some tips and tricks to help you unravel the mystery of natural health products.

Natural product number (NPN) 

In Canada all supplements must have either an eight digit Natural Product Number (NPN) or a Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) on the label. These indicate the product meets Health Canada’s minimum standards for active ingredients, quality control, and are safe and effective when used according to the instructions on the label.

Format and bioavailability

There can always be a debate about how absorbable (bioavailable) a product is, depending on the type of product and how it is produced, for example. Some guidelines:

Fermentation:This enhances the active ingredient and makes it easier for your body to process.

Food:If your body recognizes a product as food, it naturally enhances absorption.

Tinctures: These are popular because they are highly bioavailable. 

Patented ingredients

Some raw ingredients have competing brand patents with the same or similar claims. It may take a bit of research and testing to find out which patented format is best for you. The geographical source of an ingredient, the process used to extract it and whether it is an isolate or contains other naturally occurring, supporting ingredients all contribute to the effectiveness of a product.

Ingredient formula

One key ingredient may be combined with other supporting or complementary ingredients to amplify its effectiveness and bioavailability. Try a few different brands, as there may be a specific formula that works best for you. 

Expiry dates

Is the amount of active ingredients listed from the date of manufacture or guaranteed to the date of expiry? If two brands have the same amount of active ingredients and all else is the same, then take the product with the latest expiry date.  


Organic supplements are becoming more common. Only products that contain more than 95% organic ingredients may be labelled “organic” and may bear the logo. If the percentage of organic ingredients is between 70% and 95%, the label will include “Made with X% organic ingredients.” It is compulsory to indicate the percentage of organic ingredients on the label if it is between 70% and 95%. If the product contains less than 70% organic ingredients, the word “organic” may appear only on the ingredients list, and only to describe the certified organic ingredients. Logos to look for are Canada Organic, USDA Organic and ICS Certified Organic. 


GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. The recent non-GMO trend in foods the past few years is now starting to show up in supplements. The leading non-GMO certification to look for is Non-GMO Project Verified. 


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