Reading and understanding the Nutrition Facts Label for health

A Nutrition Food Label can be a quick tool for making informed food choices that can contribute to a healthy diet.

As I stroll down the aisles of the grocery store I tend to notice how many people pick up an item and flip to the back to begin reading the food label. A Nutrition Facts Label can provide a depth of information and help us to recognize what we are putting in our body. As you begin the habit of reading labels, you will subconsciously start to make better choices.

The FDA provides requirements for foods under the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and its amendments. Food labeling is required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts and drinks. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary. We refer to these products as “conventional” foods. On March 23, 2010, the President signed the Health Care Reform Legislation into law. Section 4205 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires restaurants and similar retail food establishments with 20 or more locations to list calorie content information for standard menu items on restaurant menus and menu boards, including drive-through menu boards. Other nutrient information, including total calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, sugars, fiber and total protein, would have to be made available in writing upon request. The Act also requires vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines to disclose calorie content for certain items.

Nutrition Facts Labels include nutrients we should limit such as fat, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. They also list nutrients important to include in a healthy diet including dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and the minerals calcium and iron. Here are some tips for reading the Nutrition Facts Label:

1)      The first place to start on the food label is the serving size and the number of servings per package. All calories and nutrients listed are based on the serving size of the food.

2)      The second place to direct your attention to is the calories. Calories provide us with a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. The general guide to calories shows the following:

  • 40 calories is low
  • 100 calories is moderate
  • 400 calories or more is high

3)      The third place to direct your attention to is the top nutrient section that includes fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.These nutrients should be limited. A general recommendation is that 5% of the daily value or less is low and 20% of the daily value is high of these nutrients.

4)      The next place to direct your attention to is the bottom nutrients section that includes dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Getting enough of these nutrients is important and can improve your health and may reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Again 5% or less is low and 20% or more is high.

5)      The footnote located at the bottom of the label gives the daily values for each nutrient listed and are created with public health experts’ advice. They are based on either a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet and may be slightly altered for those not within these calorie levels. A food with 5% of the daily value from fat means 5% the amount of fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day would eat. Also, an ingredient list is below the footnote that provides the ingredients in the food. This list is presented in order, from most to least in that product.

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