Are You Reading the Nutrition Facts Label?

— Written By Virginia Lopez and last updated by

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that almost all packaged foods and beverages have the Nutrition Facts label printed on it, but how often are we taking the time to read these labels and think about what we are actually eating or drinking? Do we understand what the label is even telling us? This article will focus on some key things to look for when reading the Nutrition Facts label and why it might be beneficial for our health. Recently, the FDA has also decided to make some changes to the Nutrition Facts. The upcoming modifications to the Nutrition Facts label will also be listed below. All manufacturers will have to meet the new label requirements by 2021 and several will need to meet the requirements by 2020.

First, it is important to know that all Nutrition Facts are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The number of calories a person needs depends on several factors including age, sex, and activity level. To find out the number of calories you need per day, contact your healthcare professional.

With this in mind, start at the top of the Nutrition Facts label and check the serving size as well as the number of servings per container. Serving sizes can vary by product and typically there are more than one serving in a package. Once you have identified this, use the percent daily value (%DV) as a guide. This number will be located on the right side of the label, a value of 5% or less is considered a low amount of that nutrient per serving. If the value is 20% or more it would be considered a high amount of that nutrient. It’s very important to keep in mind the (%DV) is based on the serving size and not the servings per container. If you decide to eat or drink the entire container of food/drink, you will need to multiply the (%DV) by the number of servings per container; this will give you the total percentage you are consuming of the product. The nutrients we want to try to consume less of are saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars. The nutrients we want more of are dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.

Let’s look at a Nutrition Facts label provided by the FDA and compare the current Nutrition Facts label with the new label. One of the main changes you notice is the size of the font for the calories and serving size. In addition, all new labels will be required to include the amount of added sugar in the item. The list of nutrients has also been updated to include vitamin D and potassium. Vitamin C and A will no longer be listed because Americans rarely have deficiencies in vitamin A and C, but typically need more vitamin D and potassium.
nutrition facts labels comparing old label to new label

This is just a brief overview of the Nutrition Facts label and what changes we are seeing to help us make better food choices. The Nutrition Facts label is printed for consumers so they can compare food items while shopping at the grocery store. The next time you are doing your shopping, try reading a label and comparing a food item. For example, compare spaghetti sauce jars and look for one that has less or no added sugars or compare canned green beans with a can of green beans that has no salt added. You will see a major difference in the percent daily value. Recognizing this and making these small changes can impact your risk for chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes.

For more information on Nutrition Facts labels, visit the FDA website or ChooseMyPlate.

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