Employee & Community Health

Nutrition Facts label: A tool for healthy eating

7/29/2019 by Michaeleen Burroughs, RDN, LD

ECH_NutritionLabel_widget

On every can, box, bottle, jar or bag of packaged food there's a super tool for helping you make healthy food choices. It's the Nutrition Facts label, and it's just undergone a makeover. The fresh new design and information reflects the most up-to-date scientific nutrition information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases. 

Food manufacturers have some time to transition to the new label, but the new one already is showing up on foods nationwide. So let's do a walk-through of the label to see what's new. 

Servings

Serving size is based on the amount of food that typically is eaten at one time and is not a recommendation of how much to eat. The nutrition information listed on the Nutrition Facts label is usually based on one serving of the food; however, some containers may also have per-package information. When comparing calories and nutrients in different foods, check the serving size in order to make an accurate comparison.

Servings per container shows the total number of servings in the entire food package or container. 

What's new: Servings per container and serving size are now in larger and/or bolder type. Serving sizes have been updated to reflect what people eat and drink today. There also are new requirements for certain sized packages, such as those that are between one and two servings or are larger than a single serving but could be consumed in one or more sittings. 

Calories

Calories refers to the total number of calories or "energy" supplied from all sources (fat, carbohydrate, protein and alcohol) in one serving of the food. As a general guide, 100 calories per serving of an individual food is considered a moderate amount, and 400 calories or more per serving is considered high in calories. For help in determining what your daily calorie needs are, check out the My Plate Plan and other resources at Choose My Plate

What's new: "Calories" is now larger and bolder so it's easier to find. 

% Daily Values

% Daily Value (%DV) shows how much a nutrient in a serving of the food contributes to a total daily diet. Use the %DV to determine if a serving of the food is high or low in an individual nutrient to compare food products. As always, when making comparisons, check to make sure the serving size is the same. 

As a general guide, 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low, and 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high. 

What's new: The Daily Values for nutrients have been updated based on new scientific evidence. They are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed each day (for adults and children age four and older) and are used to calculate the % Daily Value.

Nutrients

The list of nutrients required on the label has been updated to reflect how they impact your diet. 

  • Added sugars is now required. Added sugars includes sugars that are either added during the processing of foods or are packaged as such (think a bag of table sugar). They also include sugars from syrups and honey and concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. Aim for less than 10% of your total daily calories from added sugars.
  • Vitamin D and potassium are required because many Americans don't get the recommended amounts. Vitamins A and C are no longer required, since deficiencies of these vitamins are rare today. Manufacturers may voluntarily include them. 

Use the label to choose products that are lower in nutrients you want to get less of and higher in those you want more of. 

  • Nutrients to get less of: Saturated fat, sodium, added sugars and trans fat. Most Americans exceed the recommended limits for these nutrients, and diets higher in them are associated with an increased risk of developing some health conditions, such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Compare and choose foods to get less than 100% DV of these nutrients each day. Trans fat has no %DV. Use the number of grams to make comparisons and strive to keep your intake of trans fat as low as possible. 
  • Nutrients to get more of: Dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. Many Americans don't get the recommended amount, and diets higher in these nutrients can reduce the risk of developing some health conditions, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and anemia. Compare and choose foods to get 100% DV of these nutrients on most days. 

Check out the Ingredient List

Although the ingredient list is not part of the Nutrition Facts label, it's also a helpful tool, showing each ingredient by its common or usual name. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first; the one that weighs the least is listed last. 

The Nutrition Facts label provides a wealth of information in one handy location By using that information, it's not hard to make better choices about the foods you eat. 

Michaeleen Burroughs has worked at Employee and Community Health (ECH) in Family Medicine for 20 years. She currently helps patients at Mayo Family Clinics Northwest, Southeast and Kasson, and Baldwin Family Medicine and Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (CPAM). Her areas of interest are diabetes and child and adult weight management.