Understanding Nutrition Labels
We often find people glancing at a nutrition label in grocery stores but only a small percentage of them can interpret the nutrition label correctly. With the variety of packaged food available nowadays it has become essential to know what ingredients we’re consuming and how much. The numbers on the nutrition labels can be quite tricky to understand, however, there is a way we can avail this information clearly and effectively.
What is a Nutrition Label?
The U.S. Food and drug administration (FDA) mandates that all pre-packaged food should have a nutritional label on it. The food manufacturers have to use these labels to effectively convey the information about the product to the consumer. The nutrition label helps the health-conscious consumer to make an informed decision about the nutritional value of the food item. This also helps the consumer to avoid certain ingredients if they’re following a special diet. Seafood and fresh produce are exempted from using a nutrition label.
The Nutrition Label and its Parts
The nutrition label resembles a table and is printed in black and white mostly on the back or the side of the packed product. It is sometimes referred to as a nutritional facts panel. It has four major parts: The serving size information, calorie information, nutrients, and percent daily value. We will explore each part separately.
Information About the Serving Size
It is suggested to read the serving information or serving size information first while examining the nutrition label. The serving size is considered to be the amount that people would usually eat in one serving as part of a balanced diet, for example, one cup of nuts, or, one cookie. This amount of food is accompanied by the metric value, for example, 100 grams of nuts.
The serving size is important to note because the reading of the rest of the information on the label is dependent on it. The calorie information, nutrient information, and the percent daily value are all based on this serving size. So, if you are consuming 2 cups of nuts (2 servings), you’re also consuming two times the nutrients and calories. You would also have to double the percent daily value to get the correct information about your particular serving.
This part of the label also contains information about the number of servings the packaged food has in total. For example, a 500 grams pack of nuts may contain 5 servings per container.
Information About Calories
A calorie is a unit of measurement of energy. This energy is released when the food gets broken down in our bodies. The calorie information is the second part of the nutrition label. It states the number of calories present in one serving. For example, 1 serving of nuts contains 150 calories. If you consume 2 servings of nuts, you’ll consume 300 calories.
This information about calories can be used as a tool for making healthy dietary choices. It is crucial to keep the calorie intake in check as increased intake is associated with weight gain.
The third part of the nutrition label gives information on the nutrients present in one serving of the packaged food or drink. This product-specific information helps consumers look for particular nutrients as per their requirements. Some main nutrients that are listed are total fats, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fibers, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. These categories may have subcategories included by the manufacturers, such as different types of fats and carbohydrates.
Under total fats, the number of saturated fats and trans fats may be mentioned as these types of fats are considered unhealthy and should be looked out for. Similarly, total sugars include natural and added sugars. The amount of added sugar may be mentioned under total sugars as it is added during the processing of the food item and health-conscious consumers may want to keep a check on their sugar intake.
Information About the Percent Daily Value (%DV)
The daily value is the recommended amount of nutrients that should be consumed each day. The percent daily value (%DV) is listed across each nutrient on the label. It is nutrient-specific. It refers to the portion of the daily value of the nutrient that is present in one serving. For example, if the %DV of saturated fats in a product is 25% and you’ve had one serving that means you have consumed 25% of the recommended saturated fats of the day.
The percent daily value makes it simple for you to determine your daily intake of nutrients as it does the calculation for the consumer. Additionally, it helps the consumer decide if the food they’re consuming is nutritious or not. This way they may limit certain nutrients or increase the intake of other nutrients.
Furthermore, The FDA provides a general guide to help you decide if the %DV of a nutrient is high or low. If the %DV of a nutrient is 5% or less then that means it is low in that nutrient. Whereas, 20% DV or more is regarded as high in that nutrient. For example, If the %DV of saturated fats in a serving is 25% that means the food has a high saturated fat content.
Health experts suggest that nutrients like saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium should have a low %DV. Whereas, nutrients like vitamin D, potassium, and dietary fibers should have a high %DV.
The nutrition label displays information about the number of calories, and lists the nutrients in the packaged food and its respective %DV. It helps health-conscious consumers make quick decisions about their dietary choices. Additionally, the nutrition label can also be used by educators and health professionals to convey information about packaged food and drinks.
- How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. (2020). U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label
- Callahan, A., Leonard, H., and Powell, T. (2020). Understanding Food Labels. Nutrition: Science and Everyday Application. Open Oregon Educational Resources https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/nutritionscience/chapter/1e-understanding-food-labels/
- The New Nutrition Facts Label. (2020). U.S, Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-materials/new-nutrition-facts-label
- Rothman, R., et al. (2006) Patient Understanding of Food Labels: The Role of Literacy and Numeracy. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2006.07.025
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Last Updated: Apr 19, 2022
Akanksha has studied Dental Surgery from Bangalore, India. During her undergraduate degree, she was awarded the Best Student in Academics in 2016 and obtained University ranks in Microbiology and Pathology, and Conservative Dentistry.
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