The Food Label

Understanding the Nutrtional Informaion on the Food Label

The new food label is an effort to simplify and encourage the use of nutritional information. It's clear, informative, and detailed, providing everything a consumer would normally need to decide if a food meets their nutritional standards before buying.

Nutrition Numbers

The label lists the number of Calories and the number of Calories from Fat in one serving. Also listed are the grams of Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Total Carbohydrate, Dietary Fiber, Sugars, Protein and milligrams of Cholesterol and Sodium. Sometimes labels list extra information. For example, this label lists the grams of Monounsaturated Fat and Polyunsaturated Fat and milligrams of Potassium


Serving Size

The Food Label

The serving size for this food is one package. All the nutrition numbers listed are based on this amount. Compare the serving size to the amount you eat and adjust the numbers as needed. For example, if you ate only half the package of this food, you'd divide the numbers shown by two (e.g., 130 calories).

Servings Per Container

Note carefully! This package contains one serving, but sometimes even small packages contain more than one serving.

Percent Daily Values

These percentages show how much of each nutrient one serving provides in a 2,000 calorie diet. For this label, one serving of food provides 11% of the Total Fat and 15% of the Calcium recommended for the day.

Hit Your Targets...Not Too High

For nutrients we sometimes get too much of (Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium), your daily goal is to total 100 percent or less of the Daily Value. There is no Daily Value for Trans Fat, but experts recommend keeping intake as low as possible.

Hit Your Targets...Not Too Low

For nutrients such as Potassium, Dietary Fiber, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C, your daily goal is to reach 100 percent of the Daily Value. Look for foods that are good sources (10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value) or excellent sources (20 percent or more of the Daily Value) of nutrients like these. This label shows that one serving of the food is an excellent source of Dietary Fiber and Vitamin A and a good source of Potassium, Calcium and Iron.

Did You Know?
Some important vitamins and minerals are not required to appear on the Nutrition Facts Label (although the manufacturer sometimes chooses to list them). For example, a serving of beef stew is an excellent source of vitamin B12 and zinc, but the amounts and percent Daily Value may not be on the label.

DRV Footnote

This footnote reminds consumers of the daily intake of different foods depending on their caloric needs. If one pursues a 2,000 calorie diet, he/she must eat the indicated amounts noted on the right of nutrients noted on the left side of the footnote. For example, if Anne's daily calorie intake is 2,500 grams, her RDAs would be -- 50g of fat, with less than 25g of saturated fat and less than 300 mg of cholesterol, etc. Kelly's calorie intake is 3,000 grams, she's slightly more active than Anne. Therefore, her nutrient needs will may be slightly higher. That is what is meant by the phrase "your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your caloric needs."

Nutrient Content Descriptors

The regulations also spell out what terms may be used to describe the level of a nutrient in a food and how they can be used. These are the core terms:

Free. This term means that a product contains no amount of, or only trivial or "physiologically inconsequential" amounts of, one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and calories. For example, "calorie-free" means fewer than 5 calories per serving and "sugar-free" and "fat-free" both mean less than 0.5 g per serving. Synonyms for "free" include "without," "no" and "zero."
Low. This term can be used on foods that can be eaten frequently without exceeding dietary guidelines for one or more of these components: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories. Thus, descriptors are defined as follows:

  • low-fat: 3g or less per serving
  • low-saturated fat: 1 g or less per serving
  • low-sodium: 140mg or less per serving
  • very low sodium: 35mg or less per serving
  • low-cholesterol: 20mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving
  • low-calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.

Synonyms for low include "little," "few," and "low source of."

  • Lean and extra lean. These terms can be used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, seafood, and game meats.
    1. Lean: less than 10g fat, 4.5g or less saturated fat, and less than 95mg cholesterol per serving and per 100g.
    2. Extra lean: less than 5g fat, less than 2g saturated fat, and less than 95mg cholesterol per serving and per 100g.
  • High. This term can be used if the food contains 20 percent or more of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient in a serving.
  • Good source. This term means that one serving of a food contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient.
  • Reduced. This term means that a nutritionally altered product contains at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or of calories than the regular, or reference, product. However, a reduced claim can't be made on a product if its reference food already meets the requirement for a "low" claim.
  • Less. This term means that a food, whether altered or not, contains 25 percent less of a nutrient or of calories than the reference food. For example, pretzels that have 25 percent less fat than potato chips could carry a "less" claim. "Fewer" is an acceptable synonym.
  • Light. This descriptor can mean two things:
    1. First, that a nutritionally altered product contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food derives 50 percent or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50 percent of the fat.
    2. Second, that the sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50 percent. In addition, "light in sodium" may be used on food in which the sodium content has been reduced by at least 50 percent.

The term "light" still can be used to describe such properties as texture and color, as long as the label explains the intent-for example, "light brown sugar" and "light and fluffy."

More. This term means that a serving of food, whether altered or not, contains a nutrient that is at least 10 percent of the Daily Value more than the reference food. The 10 percent of Daily Value also applies to "fortified," "enriched" and "added" claims, but in those cases, the food must be altered.

Alternative spelling of these descriptive terms and their synonyms are allowed--for example, "hi" and "lo" -- as long as the alternatives are not misleading.

Source:  USDA

Food Labels on Saturated and Trans Fat

While total fat content is important, saturated and trans fats are the real culprits that clog arteries. If a food is high in fat, it can be redeemed by low levels of these fats. Try to buy foods with less than two grams of saturated fat and zero grams of trans fats per serving. The goal is to limit saturated fats to less than 7 percent of calories (about 15 grams per 2,000 calories), while limiting trans fats to less than 1 percent of calories (2 grams per 2,000 calories). Also note, getting rid of one ingredient doesn't make a product healthful. In fact, some products merely replace trans fats with coconut oil or palm oil, which are high in saturated fats. And they may still be high in fat, calories or sodium. Even products labled "Zero Trans Fat" are allowed to contain up to 0.5 gram per serving.

Food Labels on Fiber and Sodium

Always opt for the higher fiber choices. Most of us fall far short of the recommended fiber intake of about 25 grams a day. Ideally, look for foods that provide at least two grams per serving. Breakfast cereals should provide more - at least 8 grams per serving. Even if everything else is the model of good nutrition - high fiber, low fat, no trans fats - sodium can still be sky high in packaged foods. Your daily intake shouldn't exceed 2,300 milligrams. Many packaged foods provide 25 percent to 50 percent of that in a single serving.

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