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Decoding Canada Supplement Labeling: What Does it Mean?

Something that we, as a supplement retailer, are always preaching is choosing quality supplement brands. Many of the leading health experts who oppose the use of health supplements have valid concerns. However, you can alleviate most of those concerns by choosing a brand that does all the right things and doesn’t try to trick you or cut any corners.

We understand that, as a consumer, selecting a brand can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, Canada supplements are not as strictly regulated as foods and pharmaceuticals are, and when supplement labeling includes all sorts of different “certifications,” it can be confusing. You might be feeling ready to throw in the towel and give up on supplements altogether, but fear not. We’re here to help decode some of the most common claims, certifications, and practices on supplement labeling. 

How to Read Supplement Labels

The first part of a supplement label is obviously the eye-catching front that’s designed to pull you in. It likely has the name and a few key benefits. In the name of being a more informed consumer, we encourage you to not be fooled by the front panel and to take the time to inspect a little further.

Person reading supplement label on back of bottle

You should first look for certifications and seals, usually on the front or sides of the label. Next, spin the product all the way around and check out the nutrition label. Look at the macro and the micronutrients and pay attention to the sugar content to ensure this product lines up with your goals.

Next, move on to the ingredient list, because the nutrition facts are not enough. Look for sneaky artificial flavours, allergens, or other things you might want to avoid. Lastly, don’t be fooled by buzz words alone. Words like organic, natural, non-GMO, etc., are all trendy words without exact definitions.

Now that you understand the basics, let’s dig deeper into those seals, certifications, and other claims that may or may not indicate quality.

What Does Good Manufacturing Practices Mean?

One of the most common claims on quality Canada supplement brands is that they are GMP certified. GMP stands for Good Manufacturing Practices, a set of regulations determined by Health Canada regarding natural health products (or NHPs) that are sold in Canada. Sometimes you might see “cGMP” on a label. In this case, the “c” stands for current.

This is an independent, government-run organization, so Canada supplement companies are unable to alter or skew results. These regulations pertain to:

Good Manufacturing Practice red stamp on paper
  • records
  • employee qualifications
  • cleanliness and sanitation
  • equipment
  • manufacturing process
  • complaints 

The purpose of a GMP certification is to reduce and eliminate potential contamination, mix-ups, or errors regarding the final product, and the weight of the law backs these regulations. Canada supplement companies must be GMP certified, so in reality, all supplement labeling should include a reference.

What Does Informed Choice Certified Mean?

Supplement labeling often includes a reference to being Informed Choice Certified. This means that on a monthly schedule (or more often), the products go through supplement tests to ensure they are free from substances that have been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency, known as WADA.

This certification is done by a third-party lab known as LGC, or Laboratory of the Governments Chemist. When a product goes through supplement tests and is proven free from banned substances, the Canada supplement company can then place the Informed Choice logo on their supplement labeling.

Sometimes you might see “Informed-Sport” certified. The difference is that:

  • Informed Choice products are subject to random supplement tests after initial certification
  • Informed Sport products go through supplement tests for each batch 

Becoming Informed Choice or Informed Sport certified is a voluntary program for Canada supplements.

What Does Banned Substance Tested Mean?

Being “banned substance tested” refers to supplement tests designed to look for any number of banned substances. However, when supplement labeling says any variation of “banned substance tested,” instead of Informed Choice or Informed Sport, you will have to do some digging to determine:

  • What did supplement tests look for?
  • Who did the supplement test?
supplement testing being done in a lab

Being “banned substance tested” might refer to those substances banned by the WADA, a workplace, or anything else. With this label, supplement tests could also be done in-house. While that doesn’t automatically discredit the supplement labeling, it is always better if products are put through third-party testing.

What Does Lab-Tested Mean?

Like supplement labeling referring to being “banned substance tested” instead of Informed-Choice Certified, labeling that states “lab-tested” may also require extra digging. “Lab-tested” refers, in general, to supplement tests executed in a lab setting. However, it’s not specific supplement labeling for Canada supplements, and it could mean any number of things.

Again, it doesn’t mean you should automatically count a Canada supplement with this label out, but it does require you to do a little more research. Supplement tests should be done in a third-party lab to be the most credible and transparent. 

What Does Quality Guarantee Tested Mean?

When Canada supplement labeling has a phrase that refers to the quality and a guarantee, it is less about the ingredients or testing of the supplement and more about customer satisfaction. It’s a way for companies to stand behind their product and say, “if you’re not happy with our product, we will fix it.”

However, like with a supplement claiming “lab-tested” or “banned substance free,” it doesn’t have a specific definition. It could be any policy laid out by the company, so it’s worth it to see what the guarantee is.

Canada Supplement Labels in the Future

While Canada is leading the modern world in the regulations for what they call “natural health products” (aka health supplements like the ones we sell), lawmakers are looking to make continued improvements.

In June of 2021, Health Canada proposed to make more changes to supplement labeling, including:

  • a more standardized nutritional fact table
  • clear, consistent allergen labeling
  • clear, consistent labeling for gluten and the inclusion of aspartame
  • a minimum font-size requirement
  • more modern, accessible contact information
man reading supplement label in front of shelves

These amendments would make supplement labeling clearer, more user-friendly, and in turn, safer. We think that these amendments would make it easier to be the informed consumers we’re talking about and to take steps towards being a more trustworthy industry overall.

Supplement labeling is a tricky subject. While Canada supplements go through more than their American counterparts, it’s still important to be an educated consumer and learn what the various labels and certifications mean. In Canada, supplement companies must abide by Good Manufacturing Practices, and being Informed Choice Certified is a legitimate way to show these are quality products you can trust. That’s not to say that other supplement labeling doesn’t mean anything, but it does mean that you should do a little research and find out what exactly the label is referring to.

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