Nutrition facts labels

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Nutrition Facts Labels

“The Federal Food Drug and Cosmetic Act and its amendments are responsible for the requirement of food labels. Food labeling is required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary.” (US Food and Drug Association, August 2008)

There are eight major sections to note when reading a nutrition label: serving size; total calories and calories from fat; percent daily values; nutrients to limit, such as total fat, sodium, and cholesterol; nutrients to get plenty of, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber; additional nutrients; the ingredients list; and the footnotes. The daily values on nutritional labels use Recommended Daily Intakes. Optimum Daily Intakes are an updated finding on nutritional needs.

Labels are to be read with discretion. One of the first things to look at on a nutrition facts label is the number of servings. This is important because the rest of the label’s information will be based off of one serving size, which may or may not be what the consumer believes is one serving. If one were to eat more or less than the listed serving size, the total amount of nutrients would also be more or less.

Total calories and calories from fat tell how much energy the food contains. Taking note of the calories is important and helpful when managing weight gain, loss, or maintaining current weight.

Percent daily values are also to be considered. These values are given based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Some individuals require a higher calorie intake and some require less, therefore it is important to adapt certain diets to adhere to specific needs. Individuals are different so it key to use the percent daily values as a starting block or more general estimate.

Nutrients to limit are listed right below the total calories and calories from fat. They typically consist of fat (including Trans fats and saturated fats), cholesterol, and sodium. These nutrients tend to increase risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. It is recommended to aim for low intakes of these nutrients.

Some nutrients that should be focused on include fiber, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. Higher percentages of these in food products are usually better for most diets due to lack of proper nutrient intake.

Additional nutrients include those such as carbohydrates and sugars. Healthy sources of these nutrients include whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Starchy foods, such as white breads and enriched carbohydrates, should be limited to achieve adequate nourishment.

Ingredients lists show what products are in the food. Items are listed in descending order by weight. The list also indicates any allergens present in the food product.

Footnotes remind individuals that all percentages are based on diets of 2,000 calories per day, so it is important to keep in mind personal daily caloric needs may be more or less than what is listed.

References: American Dietetics Association; Mayo Clinic; US Food and Drug Association; Department of Health and Human Services