Supplement Labels 101: Understanding labels and those tricky “Proprietary Blends”

All ingredients in a dietary supplement must be listed on the label, either on the supplement facts panel or on the ingredient listing just below the supplement facts panel. Each ingredient must be listed in order of predominance of dosage (highest to lowest). So you would think it would be easy to figure out what’s in the supplement you’re purchasing, but that’s not the case. A loophole in the regulations allow manufacturers to hide ingredient dosages in deceptive “Proprietary Blends” making it impossible for the consumer to know what they are actually purchasing.a
There are two exceptions to the rule that ingredients must be listed in order of predominance of dosage.

The first exception is that any vitamins or minerals that have a Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) are listed separately in the top section, what we call above the line. They are listed in a specific order that the FDA designates, regardless of dosage.
The second exception is where the label deception comes in. There is a loophole in the regulations that allow “Blends” to be considered a single ingredient for the purposes of listing it on the label. So brands will throw a bunch of ingredients into a “proprietary blend”, so the total dosage of those ingredients push the blend to the top of the list. The problem with this is the label no longer has to list the dosage of the individual ingredients in the blend, only the total blend. So the company gets to hide the actual formula from the consumer. Consumers are led to believe that proprietary blends are done to protect the brand’s secret formula. This is nonsense since lab testing will produce the exact formula in a few hours. Proprietary blends have only one purpose in the supplement industry and that is to hide dosage information from the consumer. More and more companies are changing that now, but unfortunately the vast majority won’t disclose what you’re really getting.

NutraBio never uses proprietary blends. We list every single ingredient and the corresponding dosage.3

The section, below the line, is where the rest of the ingredients are listed that do not have RDAs. However, they don’t have to be listed there either; they can be listed under the supplement facts panel where it states either “Ingredients” or “Other Ingredients.” The choice is up to the manufacturer, but every ingredient must be in one of those two places.

Flavoring is the one exception to the rule that a label must disclose every ingredient. The regulations don’t require the actual components of flavors to be listed, only whether they are “natural” or “artificial.” Since the individual components of the flavor are not listed it makes it difficult to test for them. This gives brands some protection of their flavor profile.

Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) is the best overall source of protein for muscle building so manufacturers want you to believe that’s what you’re getting in their product. But WPI is very expensive and to keep costs down manufacturers will add small quantities of it and use the “Proprietary Blend” deception to fool you into believing it’s the main ingredient.

To accomplish this they mix WPI into a proprietary blend with cheaper proteins like whey concentrate, whey peptides and inexpensive aminos. The overall dose of the blend is now more than any other ingredient. They give it a really cool name like “Enhanced Peptide Anabolic Complete Protein Matrix” and voilà, the cheap blend gets pushed to the top of the label.

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That’s not enough to fool you so the manufacturer wants WPI to not only be in the first blend, but to be the first ingredient listed in that blend so it appears first on the label. To accomplish this they put a fractional bit more WPI in than the other proteins and it moves to the front of the blend list.

Now you look at the label which is probably called something like “100 % Whey” or “Pure Whey” (fictitious names) and you see WPI as the first ingredient on the label. But look at the math: if there are 2 proteins in blend, WPI content can be as low as 50% to bring it to the front of the list, 3 proteins and it’s only 33%, 4 proteins and WPI is down to 25% of the blend. If that’s not bad enough realize that 25% of the blend is not 25% of the overall product. Remember there are still other ingredients in the product not listed in that blend.

It gets worse! Not only is the Proprietary Blend used to deceptively bring ingredients to the top of the label, it’s also used to burry cheap ingredients and fillers on the bottom of the label. An example: Have you ever seen glucose polymer on the label, it sounds really cool but it’s just a fancy name for maltodextrin. Well you definitely don’t want to see that first on your protein label. Surprise! Maltodextrin can be the most predominant ingredient in the product yet still be listed whey at the bottom of the label. How? Just create a bunch of those super-secretive proprietary blends, bunch enough of the other ingredients in each blend so the total out-doses the maltodextrin and the blends go up while the maltodextrin goes down.

Now you understand how a protein product can be as low as 60% to 70% protein. Just add cheap ingredients and use deceptive label scheming to hide the real truth. By the way, the name of that bogus proprietary blend I mentioned earlier “Enhanced Peptide blah blah blah” Guess whose label that came from. I hate to admit it but it was mine, back in the late 90’s when I first started NutraBio and used contract manufacturers to design and make my products. I’ve learned a lot since then, which is why NutraBio now manufactures our products. We control every aspect of quality from sourcing ingredients to the final product.

Thanks for reading!
~ Mark G. NutraBio Founder

27 thoughts on “Supplement Labels 101: Understanding labels and those tricky “Proprietary Blends”

  1. This is a great article. It is unfortunate how companies produce their products. As a nationally qualified NPC Men’s Physique Division Competitor I am always looking for a top notch nutritional supplement company. I was referred to Nutrabio from a friend and the company absolutely sounds like one of the best.

    Mark, great job so far. Keep up the great work.

  2. A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment. I think that you ought to publish more about this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but typically people do not speak about these issues. To the next! Best wishes!!

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  4. Hello!I am your customer for a long time , but decided to write just now. I am very sensitive to their health and therefore do not want to push a not know that ! I was looking for a very long time quality sports nutrition and I can say that NutraBio, perhaps the only manufacturer that is so open about their recipes and ingredients , and not stupidly advertises its products , all the other manufacturers who continually talk down to each other that their products are the best and more efficiently .You are on the right track ! And know that consumers NutraBio- products are not stupid , muscular body , which does not matter at what cost to build muscle , even at the cost of his life , and the people who care about their health and longevity , while leading an active lifestyle !I wish you to stay on this path and not succumb to the temptation of obtaining financial windfall profits on people’s health !Thank you and God Bless You !

    • Thanks and I agree with you wholeheartedly. We never formulate our NutraBio supplements around price, we always formulate for maximum benefit. We don’t use under-dosed ingredients, if it’s in our product it there in the full therapeutic dosage. We are not the cheapest products on the market, but we work hard to put out the most effective supplements we can. That’s are ultimate goal.

  5. WOW!!! Excellent piece!

    As a side-job of mine, I work one day a week at a store that sells supplements. I try to stay current with scientific literature (rather than blogs, hearsay, anecdotal accounts, Dr. Oz, fancy marketing, etc.) and guide customers who ask for my opinion towards products with ingredients that actually work. Every now and then, they’ll find a bottle with a proprietary blend or bring one in that they purchased elsewhere, and ask me, “Well, what about this? You mentioned ingredient X and that’s what is in this. Will that help me?” My message has consistently been the same for a couple of years now, which is that I hate proprietary blends because we simply don’t know what the actual dosages of the active ingredients are and so it’s impossible to gauge what would count as a therapeutic dose. It drives me nuts because sometimes even companies that, on the whole, seem pretty good with respect to their other products still have a few that use that sort of labeling tactic and I find it disappointing.

    In short, thank you for the facts, the personal experiences, and the insight.

    • Derek, I agree with you 100%. I have been lobbying the industry for years to remove proprietary blends from supplement facts panels and to have more transparent labeling. Consumers should know exactly what’s in every supplement they a re taking. Thanks for your support.

  6. See? that’s why i love your stuff ~ you have such high standards ~ it’s clean… you know exactly what you’re getting. That’s why i shop here, thank you so much 🙂

    • Thanks Helen. We appreciate the comment. We are always working hard to make our products cleaner. We just took out all coloring from our products to make them cleaner, we never used artificial coloring but now we’ve even taken out the natural coloring form our supplements. We’re also removing all artificial flavoring. If it not needed, we don’t want it in there. We continue to strive to make better and better products.

  7. A few months ago i was working a national wrestling (folk-style) tournament in Reno, NV and saw that Advocare was selling their products so i engaged in a conversation with their representative about their product and NutraBio and asked him to go to the NutraBio web site and compare Whey Protein Isolate product to theirs; i also asked him to be totally honest with me about the two comparisons when he came back about two hours later he was shocked to tell me that NutraBio was an excellent choice and almost identical to theirs and at a much lower cost! Thanks NutraBio.

    • Thanks for your confidence in NutraBio products Larry. We’re working hard manufacture the cleanest and most effective supplements in the industry.

  8. another GREAT thing you do IS mention on your site is” GUARANTEED.not to have blends and whey concentrate” awesome because that has made me want to use your company…plus others said the same…great products !!!!

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  10. Hi Mark, first let me say I have learned much reading these blogs and I commend Nutrabio’s commitment to transparency. I am a bit confused though, above you mentioned “blend with cheaper proteins like whey concentrate, whey peptides and inexpensive aminos” , I am unclear as to how whey peptides and aminos are cheaper to produce, won’t they require more processing to produce, hence more expensive as some companies claim? Also where does “Hydrolyzed Whey Protein” fit into all of this?

    • Great question Vijay. And the answer is yes and no. Some amino acids are as cheap as $1.35 a pound others are as high as $20, and believe me when I tell you that the brands that are protein spiking aren’t buying the best aminos on the market. Glycine, taurine, alanine and creatine monohydrate are the cheapest of all. But don’t forget about the higher nitrogen level of the aminos. Take arginine for example which is about the same price as whey isolate, but yields 2.8 times higher nitrogen. So 10 grams of arginine will show a fake label claim of 29 grams of protein.

      Also on the topic of whey protein concentrate: the term whey concentrate is in itself a proprietary blend. Whey brands list it as single ingredient on the label, but they usually will include 2 or more ingredients under the heading without telling what they are. This deceptive practice is possibly the worst scam in the industry. Read on to understand why:

      The USDA has a very broad definition of whey protein concentrate to which the following ingredients fit in: procream, WPC80 (whey protein concentrate 80% protein value), WPC34 (whey protein concentrate 34% protein value) and everything in between. So instead of listing any of these ingredients themselves, they just list all of them as whey concentrate. Even if they put all 3 in the product, they just list whey concentrate once on the label, and you have absolutely no idea the crappy ones are in your product.

      The worst of all ingredients listed as whey protein concentrate is procream, which is legally labeled as whey concentrate. Procream is basically the crap that is filtered out of sweet whey to make whey protein isolate. It’s over 25% fat and filled with lactose (sugar). So part of the legal scamming that goes on is that brands will use proprietary blends with whey concentrate and whey isolate. Obviously their marketing touts the isolate even though they usually put as little as 40 MG (not Grams) in each serving. Then they add the Procream into the whey concentrate blend so you end up with the same crap you had before you filtered it out. That’s like going for an oil change and after the mechanic drains the old oil from your car, he then puts it right back in, and tells you he changed the oil. It’s a bunch of BS. For an oil change its fraud and illegal, but it’s perfectly legal when manufacturing protein.

      Why do they do it? Because Procream is $1.20 per pound, much cheaper they whey isolate or whey concentrate 80%, and since it filled with fat and sugar it tastes great, like adding butter and sugar to cocoa powder to make chocolate .

      Here’s a typical bullshit protein: The label claim states: Protein Blend (whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate with a total protein blend of 25 grams. Here’s what’s actually in the product: Protein Blend: (9 grams of Whey Protein Concentrate 80%, 8 grams of Whey Protein Isolate 34%, and 8 grams of procream. I hope this explains it.
      By the way, NutraBio has never amino spiked, never used WPC34 or procream in any of its products, and removed all proprietary blends back in 2001.

      Mark Glazier
      Founder NutraBio Labs.
      NutraBio

    • Hydrolyzed Whey Isolate is a fast absorbing protein just like whey isolate. There is no need to use both. Use one or the other. I see no real benefit of hydrolyzed over Whey Isolate so I recommend Whey Isolate because it tastes a hell of lot better than hydrolyzed which is very bitter. I can be objective here because I sell both WPI and HWI. One other issue with hydrolyzed is that it must state “isolate” on the supplement facts panel or it could be an inferior concentrate version with a much lower protein level. Stick with Whey Protein Isolate.,

  11. Great question Vijay. And the answer is yes and no. Some amino acids are as cheap as $1.35 a pound others are as high as $20, and believe me when I tell you that the brands that are protein spiking aren’t buying the best aminos on the market. Glycine, taurine, alanine and creatine monohydrate are the cheapest of all. But don’t forget about the higher nitrogen level of the aminos. Take arginine for example which is about the same price as whey isolate, but yields 2.8 times higher nitrogen. So 10 grams of arginine will show a fake label claim of 29 grams of protein.

    Also on the topic of whey protein concentrate: the term whey concentrate is in itself a proprietary blend. Whey brands list it as single ingredient on the label, but they usually will include 2 or more ingredients under the heading without telling what they are. This deceptive practice is possibly the worst scam in the industry. Read on to understand why:

    The USDA has a very broad definition of whey protein concentrate to which the following ingredients fit in: procream, WPC80 (whey protein concentrate 80% protein value), WPC34 (whey protein concentrate 34% protein value) and everything in between. So instead of listing any of these ingredients themselves, they just list all of them as whey concentrate. Even if they put all 3 in the product, they just list whey concentrate once on the label, and you have absolutely no idea the crappy ones are in your product.

    The worst of all ingredients listed as whey protein concentrate is procream, which is legally labeled as whey concentrate. Procream is basically the crap that is filtered out of sweet whey to make whey protein isolate. It’s over 25% fat and filled with lactose (sugar). So part of the legal scamming that goes on is that brands will use proprietary blends with whey concentrate and whey isolate. Obviously their marketing touts the isolate even though they usually put as little as 40 MG (not Grams) in each serving. Then they add the Procream into the whey concentrate blend so you end up with the same crap you had before you filtered it out. That’s like going for an oil change and after the mechanic drains the old oil from your car, he then puts it right back in, and tells you he changed the oil. It’s a bunch of BS. For an oil change its fraud and illegal, but it’s perfectly legal when manufacturing protein.

    Why do they do it? Because Procream is $1.20 per pound, much cheaper they whey isolate or whey concentrate 80%, and since it filled with fat and sugar it tastes great, like adding butter and sugar to cocoa powder to make chocolate .

    Here’s a typical bullshit protein: The label claim states: Protein Blend (whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate with a total protein blend of 25 grams. Here’s what’s actually in the product: Protein Blend: (9 grams of Whey Protein Concentrate 80%, 8 grams of Whey Protein Isolate 34%, and 8 grams of procream. I hope this explains it.

    By the way, NutraBio has never amino spiked, never used WPC34 or procream in any of its products, and removed all proprietary blends back in 2001.

    Mark Glazier
    Founder NutraBio Labs.
    NutraBio

  12. Thanks Mark, definitely helps.
    Hydrolyzed Whey Protein, I also see companies blend in this also, is it better than WPI, and more expensive compared to WPC and WPI? Thanks

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  15. Hi Mark I was a big buyer of 1st phorm & all max nutrition after I learned that most companies use heated processed unfiltered protein to be economical to ignorent buyers to sell but I learned after ? The typical protocol that it must be cold/low temperature processed protein in order to be legit. Now the knowledge I learned from you is a big step higher. so a brand can claim to be micro filtration low temperature processed protein under property blend & lie about the claim??? Or high details within the claim???

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