Deciphering Nutrition Labels: Just the Facts
On nearly every processed food product sold in the U.S., you will find the familiar black and white Nutrition Facts panel. This panel allows consumers to make informed decisions about food purchases. Over 80% of grocery shoppers report that they refer to the Nutrition Facts panel when considering a first time purchase. The Nutrition Facts panel has been in use for over 20 years, is mandated by the FDA, and must display certain information such as serving size, calories and amounts of specific nutrients. Although the panel is intended to be easily understood, many shoppers find this information quite confusing. Here are some tips for deciphering all of those numbers and percentages:
Serving Size, the first section of the Nutrition Facts panel, is the basis of all following values. Serving Size information includes the Calories per serving and how many servings are contained in one package. The serving size may be quite different – usually less – than what is typically eaten in one sitting.
Following the Serving Size section, you’ll find values that many people may wish to limit in their daily diet including Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat, as well as Cholesterol and Sodium, all of which may play a role in the development of heart disease. Total Carbohydrate, which is further divided into Dietary Fiber and Sugars, comes next, followed by Protein. The values for these nutrients are listed in grams (or milligrams), and as a percent of Daily Value. The percent of Daily Value compares the amount of a specific nutrient contained in one serving to that of a person’s total daily need.
Amounts of Vitamins A and C, and the minerals Calcium and Iron are currently required on the Nutrition Facts panel and are also listed as a percent of Daily Value. You may find additional values listed for other optional nutrients such as phosphorus, vitamin D or certain B vitamins.
The Percent Daily Values footnote at the bottom of the panel states: “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” In other words, each person’s nutrient needs differ. The percent of Daily Value as listed on the Nutrient Facts panel should be considered an “average” example.
If you are still puzzled when reading the Nutrition Facts panel, you are not alone! In fact, the panel is currently being updated with changes meant to simplify the nutrition information. Changes will include adjustments in serving sizes – to more closely reflect amounts that people really eat and the additional listing of “added sugars.” Values for potassium and vitamin D will be added because many people do not get enough of these minerals. Vitamins A and C will be removed, as most Americans consume sufficient amounts, and deficiency is rare.