Recently while I was shopping, I noticed a couple that was intently checking the Nutrition Facts Label on items they were considering to purchase and comparing brands to get the best nutritional value. It was encouraging to see the information being put to its intended use.
The Food and Drug Administration has revised the Nutrition Facts Label based on updated scientific information, new nutrition research, and input from the public. If you are not using the labels in selecting food items, you are missing out on a lot of detailed information.
The first information on the label is the Serving Size, based on the amount that people would usually eat or drink. In checking labels, you will notice that serving sizes are standardized and given as familiar units to make it easier to compare similar products.
The Calorie Listing follows the serving size on the label. This section has been made larger so that it is easier to see. If you are eating twice the listed serving size you will need to double the calories and other nutrients consumed. The Nutrition Facts Label lists a Per Cent Daily Values to show how much of a day’s requirement is provided. These per cents are based on 2,000 calories per day as a general guide. In reality, the number of calories needed per day varies by individual based on sex, age, height, weight, and activity level; be aware, that your required calorie level could be lower or higher, changing the per cent for your requirements.
Key Nutrients that are associated with health are in the next section of the label. Look for products with more of the nutrients you want and less of the nutrients you are avoiding. Total Fat content is given along with grams of Saturated Fat and Trans Fat. While polyunsaturated and monosaturated fats are good for you, the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting saturated fat to less than 10 percent of calories per day stating at age two. Trans fat is a hydrogenated fat that should be avoided; Harvard Health Publishing (www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good) indicates Trans Fats have no known health benefit or safe level of consumption. Even small amounts of trans fats can harm health: for every 2% of calories from trans fats consumed daily, the risk of heart disease rises by 23%.
The amount of Cholesterol is listed as a source of information for those monitoring cholesterol intake. While no recommended level of cholesterol is given in the Dietary Guidelines recommendations, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommended that Americans should limit saturated fat and cholesterol to as low a level as possible due to a demonstrated relationship with cardiovascular disease.
The Sodium Content in milligrams is also given for those controlling their sodium intake. The Dietary Guidelines recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300mg per day (or even less if younger than 14). The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults.
Total Carbohydrate is provided with a listing of Dietary Fiber, Total Sugars, and Added Sugars. Total sugars are the sugars that are naturally present in food and beverages. Labels displaying “includes added sugar” is indicating that the Total Sugar includes the amount of Added Sugar. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day for ages two and older and to avoid added sugars for infants and toddlers.
Protein is given in grams as an important value in assessing nutritional content. Dietary Guideline recommendations are to limit red and processed meat and instead focusing on carbohydrate-rich plant-based foods for optimal health.
Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium are nutrients included on the label as Americans generally do not get the recommended amounts of these. Food items that contain higher levels would be preferred.
The Nutrition Facts Label and Dietary Guidelines for Americans are intended as guidelines for the general public. If your physician has provided you with specific levels of calories, fat, sugar, cholesterol, sodium or other nutrients, you should follow your physicians’ instructions as they take your unique health conditions into account.