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What The Heck Are All Those Vitamins For? Part One | How To Read Labels | Difference Between Fat Soluble & Water Soluble

Updated on September 18, 2015

by Rachael O'Halloran

Published on November 12, 2014

Part One: The ABC's of Vitamins and Dietary Supplements

Before I get started with this multi-hub series about vitamins and dietary supplements, it is important to know how to interpret label directions, dosages, additives, storing conditions and expiration dates.

Now, don't skip away from this article yet, even if you know all about that part. There just might be something you don't know or simply forgot. Please hang in here with me. :)

Over the last few years, I've compiled the information in this series of articles, adding to update as new information became available. Each will be on their own title in the next few articles and I hope you will consider them a valuable resource and bookmark them for future use.

Choose food first, then teas or juices, then vitamins and dietary supplements

Food should always be your first "go to" source, but when it is not possible or not in season, vitamins and supplements can lend a helping hand.
Food should always be your first "go to" source, but when it is not possible or not in season, vitamins and supplements can lend a helping hand. | Source

What is a dietary supplement?

A dietary supplement is any product containing one or more dietary ingredients including vitamins, minerals, herbs or other botanicals, amino acids, and other substances, is intended to be taken by mouth as a pill, capsule, tablet, or liquid; and is labeled on the front panel as being a dietary supplement.

- Wikipedia

Claims on vintage bottles

http://www.pinterest.com/barbie5867/old-school-medicine/
http://www.pinterest.com/barbie5867/old-school-medicine/ | Source

Reading and Understanding Labels

You don't have to be a doctor or medical provider to be able to read an over-the-counter medicine package, or vitamin, mineral and dietary supplement labels.

But sometimes these big companies sure make you feel like you do.

If you are concerned about your health and routinely take vitamin or food supplements, you probably already know how to not only read the labels, but know what each supplement is for.

However, for the average consumer, that information isn't always on the label because, in most countries, a company is not allowed to make a claim on a label unless they can point to the proven facts in mainstream medical literature.

Examples of Label Wording:

  • "Calcium helps maintain strong healthy bones". or, "Calcium supports bone health." Either of these statements would be permitted on a label because they do not say the product will perform a function.
  • "Calcium builds strong healthy bones." This would not be permitted because it is making a claim that has not been fully vetted by research. It could actually be legally challenged in court, especially if a consumer "solely" relied on Calcium for their bone health instead of food sources.

See what I mean about learning how to read the labels?

Reading between the lines on many bottles and packages won't get you far if you don't know the basics of dosages, ingredients, drug and food interactions.

By law, a label only has to list the dosage and ingredients. In an age where consumers are sue-happy with lawsuits about claims on product labeling, nowadays most product labels will make very few health claims.

Check labels for dosage

Be a smart shopper to read labels and compare prices
Be a smart shopper to read labels and compare prices | Source

Interesting Facts

According to this April 2011 report from the Centers For Disease Control, in a study conducted from 2003 to 2006, more than one half of the population in the United States takes vitamins and dietary supplements.

Use of Calcium accounts for 61% of the population, mostly women age 60 and over.

34% of women aged 20–39 used a dietary supplement containing folic acid which is believed to help fight birth defects.

Source: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db61.htm

Certain Medical Conditions

While some supplements can hurt you if you have certain medical conditions, some can become your only "medication" for other medical conditions. Sometimes this can help you to avoid taking an expensive prescription drug, which may come with some unpleasant side effects.

When I am told I need more of a vitamin or mineral, I always look for food source first, then I advance to consider herbal teas, then move on to supplementation, and finally if all else fails, I'll allow a prescription.

If I have to take 15 pills a day, I'd like it much better if more than half of those were supplements and not prescription medications.

Why We Take Supplements

Some people must take vitamin supplements because they have serious nutritional deficiencies. For example, these may come from the effects of chemotherapy treatments or from an inadequate or restrictive diet (examples: low calorie, gluten-free, puree, tube feeding, or fad diets).

Supplementation can also help in a person in their senior years when their diets seem to downsize where they don't get the vitamins they need from food.

Supplementation is also recommended in a young child's formative years especially when he turns his nose up at certain foods.

However, there are certain diseases where vitamin supplements can be dangerous and can actually cause a major health crisis.

Educate Yourself

Before you click "Submit" on your next internet mail order of vitamin purchases, or before you leave the vitamin store with your purchases in hand, it behooves you to know:

  • what the side effects are,
  • the storing rules,
  • what foods the vitamin is found in,
  • the dosage contained in each pill or capsule and
  • the interactions with your existing medications and medical conditions

For Vegetarians

If you are a vegetarian, getting a medical checkup every six months to include blood and urine laboratory studies will help make sure you are getting enough Vitamin B-12, Zinc and Calcium in your diet.

More is not always better

You have probably read a lot of information on the web about nutrition - specifically about vitamin and mineral supplementation. One thing is for sure ... the rules are always changing regarding acceptable dosages, storage conditions, designer products (unique combinations with other supplements), and food and drug interactions.

New products come on the market or others get taken off the market. Warnings are issued to keep the public informed of the changes.

I've used vitamins and supplements all my life for myself and my family. I can't tell you how many prescription pills that doctors have pushed which, after some time using vitamins and supplements, it turned out we didn't need the prescriptions at all.

By investigating how to supplement with foods, and vitamins or minerals, the same or similar result can be achieved.

It may take a tad longer, but it beats the complications that can come with prescription medications, i.e. taking additional medication to act as a booster to the first prescription, taking more medication to combat the original medication's side effects, or possibly being exposed to side effects that can cause another medical problem other than the one you were originally being treated for.

Over-dosing and Under-dosing

If you can get your nutrition from food sources, do it.

But if you take supplements in addition, just watch the dosage you are taking. Use vitamins and supplements responsibly by being informed about over-dosing or under-dosing.

Often when someone doesn't see any great effects in their well-being from taking a vitamin or supplement on a daily basis, they will think they are under-dosing. In turn, they keep upping the dosages without regard to toxicity.

Know the food sources associated with each vitamin and supplement. That way you don't eat too much of a particular food while taking the supplement, which could cause a crisis or make the supplement ineffective.

The chief reason why people to start upping the dose is they are hoping to feel better.

Know the side effects of vitamins and supplements, especially if you take prescription medication

Educate yourself about the vitamins and supplements you are taking and how they interact with any medication you are taking. Be prepared by knowing all the side effects of the  medications and supplements
Educate yourself about the vitamins and supplements you are taking and how they interact with any medication you are taking. Be prepared by knowing all the side effects of the medications and supplements | Source

Fat Soluble and Water Soluble Vitamin Chart

Fat Soluble Vitamins
Water Soluble Vitamins (dissolves in fluids)
 
Vitamin C
Vitamin A
All the B Vitamins
Vitamin D
Thiamine = B-1
Vitamin E
Riboflavin = B-2
Vitamin K
Niacin = B-3
 
Pantothenic Acid = B-5
 
Pyridoxine = B-6
 
Biotin = B-7

Do you have a crappy diet?

Experts say that you should always try to eat a balanced diet.

But they don't live in your world, with your busy schedule and your health care needs.

Just in case your diet might not be optimal to include all the food groups, or if your diet is high in pre-made (processed or prepared) foods, you might want to include some vitamins and dietary supplements as part of your daily regimen.

Think of it as a cheap insurance policy as compared to the high cost of health care for ailments that arise from a crappy diet.

Calculating Dosages, Buying Needs & Costs

Many labels on the front of vitamin bottles state the product's total dosage is a certain milligram. If the bottle has 100 pills, the consumer - you - may assume there are 100 doses of that product in the bottle.

But in actuality, you have to read the label to see how much ingredient is inside each pill or capsule because you can't make a purchase decision by the information on the front of the label.

For example: the front label of my Rapid Release Formula Glucosamine Chondroitin says there are 120 capsules in the bottle. The listed dosage is: Glucosamine HCI 4500mg and Chondroitin is 5000 mg.

At 120 capsules, the average consumer assumes this would be a supply for four months (30 days ÷ 120 caps = 4 months).

Turn the bottle over to the back label and it gives you a wealth of information, which may include shellfish allergy information, expiration date, whether it is gluten-free and has any other preservatives, additives or starches.

  • Serving size: 3 capsules for the stated dosage

  • Servings per bottle: 40.

  • Gluten-free

  • Taken preferably with a meal.

  • Expiration date is two years from now.

  • Contains gelatin, rice flour, silica, vegetable magnesium stearate

  • Contains shellfish ingredients (crab, shrimp, lobster, or crayfish) - good to know if one has a shellfish allergy

From that list, you can see that each capsule only contains one third of the dose, and you will have to take 3 capsules to get the total dosage stated on front label.

Where you thought you were getting 120 doses, you are really only getting 40 doses. In my world, that is 40 days.

You would have been grossly under-purchasing if you placed a mail order expecting four months of dosages.

Fun Fact: Coke's medicinal claims

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/513128951263433947/
http://www.pinterest.com/pin/513128951263433947/ | Source

Note the expiration date on all bottles

Many supplements are good for up to a year or sometimes two years after expiration - only if stored in ideal conditions. However, others spoil more quickly due to the nature of their composition - pill, capsule, gelcap or liquid.

If you only get to the store occasionally, or if you make a large online purchase only a few times a year, this is important information to know for your bulk buying decisions, for planning safe conditions for storing the order (not everything is ok at room temperature) and expiration dates, especially if your large order will not be consumed before that date.

If you are adding a new order to existing supplies at home, make sure you rotate your old products to the front and move your newly arrived order to the back, so you use the oldest bottles first.

Again, check expiration dates, and move those products with the soonest expiration date to the front.

Cheap doesn't mean it's bad; but expensive doesn't mean it's the top of the line either

Vitamins and supplements come in all kinds of formulas, and the costs vary from very cheap to very expensive
Vitamins and supplements come in all kinds of formulas, and the costs vary from very cheap to very expensive | Source

Health Products at The Dollar Store

Do you think that vitamins and supplements sold in The Dollar Store would be considered inferior?

Guess again. Sometimes The Dollar Store sells a darn good product and you hit a good deal. They buy odd lots and leftovers from auctions and bulk distributors.

Sometimes you will see a brand name and sometimes it will be a name you don't recognize. You have to read the labels to see how much ingredients are in each capsule or tablet, and how many are in the bottle.

Just because The Dollar Store sells a vitamin/supplement product for a dollar doesn't mean it isn't any good.

People go to The Dollar Store for bargains and sometimes there is a real bargain to be found in the vitamin and supplement section.

Buying the most expensive product doesn't mean it is the best product

In order to develop your preferences, it is best to order from a few suppliers to see which company's product suits you.

About 10 years ago, a friend suggested I put an order in at Puritan's Pride, a mail order vitamin and supplement company. Up until then, I was making due with Sam's Club, BJ's Warehouse, and The Vitamin Shoppe. I placed one order with Puritan's Pride and I was won over. Their quality is good, customer service for returns is excellent and their prices are beyond compare, especially when they run sales promotions of buy 2, get 3 free.

Buying in bulk sizes at the warehouse companies is cost effective, but one has to really read the labels to make sure what you are buying is comparable to what you are accustomed to getting.

In a pinch, I used to buy at Walmart, Walgreen's, CVS and others and I found all of them to be more expensive for less quantity product in the bottles and some with expiration dates that were sooner rather than later. Unless my supplies are totally depleted, I stick to the mail order house and Sam's Club.

It is all up to your preferences, but just know buying a cheap product isn't always a bargain and buying an expensive product doesn't always mean you are getting the best product.

Mail order or retail stores?

Do you buy your vitamins and supplements by mail order or at retail stores?

See results

The Heavy Toll of Diet-Related Chronic Diseases

http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf
http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/dietaryguidelines2010.pdf

Summary

Fat Soluble Vitamins - Vitamins A, D, E, and K.

  1. The foods containing fat soluble vitamins will not lose their potency if they are cooked.
  2. You don't need to keep replenishing fat soluble vitamins because once you take them, they are stored in your liver and fat tissues of the body until they are tapped for use.
  3. Only very small amounts of fat soluble vitamins are needed each day. But this does not hold true for those who are using these vitamins to combat side effects of invasive medical treatments, or involved in risky behavior where these vitamins would be leeched from the body.
  4. All vitamins and supplements use a different unit of measure. International Units (IU) is not the same as micrograms (mcg) or milligrams (mg).
  5. Some people can develop a deficiency in a certain vitamin (Vitamin D, for example). If this pertains to you, you should be treated by medical professionals who will keep track of your levels with blood tests. Often they will treat patients with mega-doses to bring their blood test results in line with what is considered normal range.

In conclusion, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are only needed in small amounts because they stay in the body for longer periods of time. In other words, you don't "piss them out." Since they are stored, that means they are a bigger risk for toxicity than the water soluble vitamins.

The US Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services must review, update, and publish new guidelines every 5 years. The guidelines in my articles are derived from the latest publication in 2010. The next US government review is scheduled for 2015.

Water Soluble Vitamins

  1. Water soluble vitamins (B-complex vitamins and vitamin C) are not stored in the liver or fat tissues and must be replaced each day. Ideally this should be with foods. If foods are not readily available, dietary supplements should be considered.
  2. You can destroy the vitamins in foods by preparation processes, cooking, and storage techniques.
  3. Water soluble vitamins have co-enzymes which help your body get energy from food.
  4. All of the B vitamins are necessary for good vision, nervous system, forming red blood cells and for healthy skin.
  5. Examples of foods high in B complex vitamins: meat, poultry, fresh vegetables, milk, eggs, fish, fruits, vegetables, bread, cereals.
  6. Examples of foods high in Vitamin C: many fruits and vegetables, especially citrus.
  7. B-12 is not present in plant foods so vegetarians needs to add this supplement.
  8. Folic Acid should be added as a supplement during pregnancy to avoid birth defects.
  9. Alcoholics and smokers should add more Vitamin C to their diets, either through foods or supplements. Anyone exposed to second hand smoke should also supplement with Vitamin C.
  10. Water soluble vitamins help the body TODAY and whatever the body doesn't need comes out with urine.

Water soluble means they dissolve in water.

Resource Links

Converter - micrograms to milligrams - if your label is in micrograms and all others are milligrams, here is a handy converter to know how much product you need to buy.

Sample Menu for 2000 calories per day - This 7-day menu gives an example of how you can get all of the recommendations from food groups into one weekly menu. This menu provides the recommended amounts of key nutrients and foods from each food group, featuring a large number of different foods to inspire ideas for adding variety to food choices.

Please Do Not Copy

Thank you for not copying my work.
Thank you for not copying my work.

© Rachael O'Halloran, November 2014

© 2014 Rachael O'Halloran

Comments

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  • billybuc profile image

    Bill Holland 2 years ago from Olympia, WA

    Terrific article. As always, the research is impeccable.

    I don't take vitamins or other supplements, but if I ever start, I now have some information to turn to.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    billybuc, the literature says that the diets of seniors tends to need some supplementation the older they get. I'm glad you are healthy enough that you don't need them yet. And thank you for making time for me in your reading schedule.

  • Jackie Lynnley profile image

    Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

    This really is need to know stuff and we are very unaware if we don't pay attention. Thanks for making us all aware.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    Jackie Lynnley, You are right - it really is "need to know" because so many people take heaps of supplements without really knowing what they can do to their bodies - i.e. toxicity. Thanks for reading my article.

  • Nell Rose profile image

    Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

    Hi rachael, this was great! I do take supplements sometimes, mainly in the winter, at the moment I am taking vit d and c, but yes sometimes we do buy the most expensive thinking they are better, but I do tend to buy mine from the cheaper shops, but always read the back chemical list to see if its exactly the same as the more expensive, great advice, and this is bookmarked because my brain couldn't take it all in at once! lol! so if I need to check I will come back, brilliant!

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    Nell, I am glad you found this helpful. I was leery of putting so much info into one article and as I sit here writing the next seven articles, I fear they are too full of information too. Hopefully readers will digest them in shorter sittings, bookmark them so they can come back to finish reading the rest of them. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 2 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    I don't use Vitamins or supplements. I feel the natural way is best for me. An informative and helpful hub from you.

  • Eiddwen profile image

    Eiddwen 2 years ago from Wales

    Interesting and very useful Rachael. Voted up, across and shared. Here's wishing you a great day ahead.

    Eddy.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    DDE, We all do what we have to do to keep ourselves healthy. Some countries don't have bountiful supplies of fruits and vegetables and for that reason, supplementing is good for these folks. Other people have medical conditions that deplete their nutrients and for them supplementing is a Godsend so that they can get well or be as well as they can be while enduring their medical condition. Thank you for reading and commenting. Here's to your good health long into your senior years :)

    Eddy, I'm glad you found this article useful and I'm happy you voted up and shared it. Sharing is the best way to get our work out into the mainstream and for that I thank you very much. Have a great weekend!

  • breakfastpop profile image

    breakfastpop 2 years ago

    Thanks for this fabulous article about a very important subject. Over the years I have taken vitamins, but as time went on I stopped as article after article came out about the relatively useless effect they have. I prefer to eat right and get what I need! Voted up, useful, interesting and awesome!

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    breakfastpop, vitamins and supplements have their place in our world. It is just that not everyone in the world needs them or uses them appropriately.

    First and foremost, specific blood tests conducted by a laboratory is the true measure of where your body is lacking (or is toxic) and any decisions about supplementing should be based on those test results. Not marketing, not articles like mine and certainly not on advice from friends.

    I'm glad your body gets what it needs from food. Food should always be the first "go to " before anything else. Thank you for voting, I appreciate that.

  • bravewarrior profile image

    Shauna L Bowling 2 years ago from Central Florida

    Excellent article, Rache. I'm a label reader. I spend more time at the store reading labels than I do actually shopping.

    Another great source of Vitamin C, believe it or not, is dark green leafy vegetables, including broccoli.

    I've never bought supplements online. I usually buy them at the grocery store. I buy the Sundown Naturals products. Invariably I have a coupon and my local grocery store quite often has BOGO sales on Sundown products.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    bravewarrior, reading labels is time well spent.

    Coupon or not, it's the ingredients (freshness, quality, amount, etc.) that should be a deciding factor. Although I favor a website who happens to offer buy 2 get 3 free, their ingredients and how the products made me feel after taking them for a few months is what attracted me first and their BOGO offer was a bonus.

    I'm glad you found products you like and I hope you follow up with lab work (blood studies) which should be part of your annual health check to make sure you are not lacking or overdoing supplementing.

    I hope you are feeling better since we last talked. Drop me a note. :)

  • travmaj profile image

    travmaj 2 years ago from australia

    I've just added Vit D to my diet as advised by my Dr after recent blood tests. I admit in the past I've often got on the band wagon after seeing/hearing vitamins portrayed as potential healers of almost everything. The advertisers constantly have newer, better, more efficient vits , I'm more discerning now. Thank you for this article, most helpful and I will bookmark it.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    travmaj, Vitamin D deficiencies are the most common and only detected by laboratory studies. I'm glad you followed your doctor's advice. Thank you for reading my article and for your comment.

  • vkwok profile image

    Victor W. Kwok 2 years ago from Hawaii

    This hub is definitely a good resource for considering one's health.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    vkwok, thanks for reading and commenting.

  • MsDora profile image

    Dora Isaac Weithers 2 years ago from The Caribbean

    Another very important article with super vital information. Thanks for sharing this research. I shall follow your recommendation for nutrient source: food, teas or juices then supplements. Thank you.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    MsDora, Lord knows I'm all about the research. lol

    Yes, food sources first, then supplements. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • SherriDW profile image

    SherriDW 2 years ago

    Thanks for this insightful and informative article. I've waffled back and forth on the vitamin/supplement issue. All of this information is quite helpful in helping me to make better decisions and choices in the future.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    SherriDW, I'm glad you found this article useful and I truly hope it helps you in your purchasing decisions. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  • poetryman6969 profile image

    poetryman6969 2 years ago

    Food is best because it is the way nature intended us to get nutrition. Still, especially older folks may find that a doctor will prescribe something like baby aspirin.

    One day I think they will have a pill figures out what you lack and gives it to you.

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    poetryman6969, I like that idea - a Smart Pill!

    Thanks for reading and commenting.

  • pstraubie48 profile image

    Patricia Scott 2 years ago from sunny Florida

    This is such important information for all who take supplements and for those who are family members to those who do. Often people think 'more is better' which over time leads to trouble.

    It is also critical as you cite to know what drug interactions one should be aware of.

    Well said...sharing and voted up

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    pstraubie48

    Thank you for reading, sharing, voting and commenting. Happy New Year to you and yours. :)

  • peachpurple profile image

    peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

    fresh food are still the best vitamins compare to suplements

  • RachaelOhalloran profile image
    Author

    Rachael O'Halloran 2 years ago from United States

    peachpurple,

    Yes food is always the best choice.

    There was an item in the news this week centering around GNC, Target, Walgreens, Walmart, CVS and several other stores for selling supplements.

    They cited for selling them with very little or NO supplement in each capsule/tablet. There were wheat and rice fillers, mislabeling where it said it was gluten free and sugar free and other fillers were just plain garbage - scraps of brocolli, veggies, sugar, flour, etc.

    This is a sizable blow to the supplement industry and public trust.

    A list of the supplements they cited are here:

    http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/new-york-...

    And this is from CNN:

    http://money.cnn.com/2015/02/03/news/herbal-supple...

    Last one from Forbes:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2015/02/03/...

    Thank you for reading and for your comment.

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