Reading Supplement Labels: What is suitable for vegetarians?

Over the weekend I had an epiphany of sorts. Or I was kicking myself. One of the two. I make sure I buy supplements with allergy statements on them because supplements with fish or shellfish ingredients can make me very sick – sometimes it sneaks up on you too. (I’m not an average healthy person so I rely on supplements.) It turns out I haven’t looked close enough at every single bottle – every brand – that I’ve purchased. I know that I made an easy/simple mistake. The vigilance required when taking supplements and having to deal with food sensitivities/allergies/intolerances is … inhuman? Scary? Overwhelming? Regardless, I’m still having problems resisting kicking myself over being this stupid.  Anyway.

The biggest thing I’ve fallen for is “suitable for vegetarians.” And as an extension of that trying to determine what omitting details means or needing to know if food allergy label requirements for food also apply to supplements.

Here’s two labels in question. Just the backs of the bottles that have the allergy/safe for statements. I was probably tired or brain fogged or sick when searching for the magnesium and calcium supplements in the pictures. I saw the contains no blank words and figured I was fine because minerals. Also, what does hypoallergenic mean when it doesn’t clearly state it’s free of peanut, tree nut, shellfish or fish?

supplement label examples (2)supplement label examples (1)

The following four labels are exactly what I want to see. They either have a statement showing they are free of the top 8 common food allergies or, in the case of the biotin, say suitable for vegans.

supplement label examples (6)supplement label examples (5)supplement label examples (4)supplement label examples (3)

I’ve searched the FDA website now, with multiple keywords and found nothing helpful. (I started with Google.)

I can’t find a definition of vegetarian or what suitable for vegetarians means. There is also suitable for vegans – that’s much clearer.

This is my (/sarcasm) favorite (/sarcasm) result. I had one result when I searched the FDA’s website for “suitable for vegetarians.”

Other search results:

“Questions and Answers on Dietary Supplements”

Guidance for Industry: A Dietary Supplement Labeling Guide

Guidance for Industry: Current Good Manufacturing Practice in Manufacturing, Packaging, Labeling, or Holding Operations for Dietary Supplements; Small Entity Compliance Guide

And the most important one but I couldn’t find anything that says the Food Allergy regulations apply to supplements….

Food Allergens Guidance Documents & Regulatory Information

I gave up and posted on Twitter and tagged a few different FDA accounts. I’m not expecting a reply, but maybe I’ll get lucky. (I’ll update this post if I do get a reply.)

Don’t do what I did. If you have food allergies or any type of food that makes you horribly sick all the time, read every single label, even if it’s the same brand. In fact, read them twice. And don’t trust “suitable for vegetarians” unless they define what a vegetarian eats and doesn’t eat.

Again: Because of my MCAD/S, MS, and other health problems, I need supplements. And the MCAD/S is also why I have to be so careful with supplements. It’s not a question.

Now I really need to get off the computer and go knit while leaning on a heating pad.

Author: Histamine Queen

Nerd, wife, knitter, writer, cat mom, and comic book reader w/masters of science in Applied Sociology. I have histamine intolerance, lots of food allergies and sensitivities - including gluten. And I have multiple sclerosis fibromyalgia, asthma, drug allergies, and migraines. Basically, I have a collection of invisible chronic health problems. I don't just survive these things, but sometimes I do hate them because I see doctors so often that keeping healthy and staying full time employed is currently impossible.