Since 1990 nutrition labels have been required on packaged foods and beverages. Food labels help us as consumers make informed decisions about the food we put into our bodies. This entails how to store and use it safely, to how we can consume it. There have been several revisions to food labels since they became required by law in the ’90s.
In January 2020, the Nutrition label received another update. The first major update in over 20 years. The label’s refreshed design and updated information will make it easier for you to make informed food choices that contribute to lifelong healthy eating habits.
(example of the 2020 update)
But what does all the information on a food label mean? If you are not sure what any of this is, how can we make informed decisions and develop healthy eating habits? Let’s break this label down from top to bottom.
(Sample Label for Frozen Lasagna)
- Serving Size:
When looking at the Nutrition Facts label, the first thing to look at is the number of servings in the package and the serving size. They are provided in quantities that are familiar to us as consumers such as, cups, pieces, and then are followed by the metric amount (g). The serving size reflects the amount that people typically eat or drink. It is not a recommendation on how much you should eat or drink of that product.
Serving size is important to pay attention to because the rest of the label is calculated on it. So, if the recommended serving size is ½ cup and you consumed 1 cup, that is double the calories and nutrients that are printed on the rest of the label.
Often we have an image in our mind of a girl saying, “that’s way too many calories”. We need to throw that image away. The whole thing. Calories are just the measurement of energy you get from a serving of food. Remember, this is calculated on the serving size. If you ate the entire lasagna that is referenced above in the food label, that’s servings. So, you would need to times 280 by 4, which is 1,120 calories.
Typically 2,000 calories a day is used as the general nutrition guideline. However, depending on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level, you may need calories.
Remember: The number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you eat. Eating too many calories per day is linked to overweight and obesity.
There are nutrients that support your personal dietary needs, and then there are nutrients you want to limit.
Nutrients to decrease would-be saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. Americans in general consume too many of these nutrients already. Over time having too many of these nutrients can lead to some adverse health side effects. For example, too much sodium and saturated fats are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Too much-added sugars can make it hard to meet your nutrient needs while staying within calorie limits.
Added sugars are the sugar that is added during the processing of the food rather than sugar that is naturally present which would be under ‘Total Sugars’. Added sugars could be table sugar, syrup, honey, and sugar from concentrated fruit or vegetable juice.
Nutrients to increase would-be dietary fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. Americans generally do not get enough of the recommended amount of these nutrients. A diet high in fiber can increase the frequency of bowel movements, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and reduce calorie intake. Diets higher in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, anemia, and high blood pressure.
- Percent Daily Value (%DV):
The daily value is the percentage of the recommended daily value for each nutrient in a serving of food. The %DV shows how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a total daily diet. The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. A general guide is that anything 5% or less of a nutrient is considered low. Anything 20% or more of a nutrient is considered high.
Hopefully this blog helped you understand nutrition fact labels a little more, or was a good refresher for you so that we can all make informed decisions about what we are putting into our bodies.