The Nutrition Facts Label
The label is receiving a fresh look and update after being unchanged for over 20 years. The new label reflects recent research and new scientific information on chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The new label is also more user friendly. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which regulates the Nutrition Facts label, these changes will allow consumers to make informed decisions about the foods they choose. Some manufacturers are already using the new label. However, the FDA extended the compliance dates: manufacturers with $10 million or more in annual food sales have until January 1, 2020, to update their labels, and manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales have until January 1, 2021.
The Nutrition Facts label is found on food and beverage packages and can help you make better food choices. Use it to:
- Compare the nutritional value of similar food items.
- Find foods with fewer of certain nutrients like sodium.
- Find foods with more of certain nutrients like vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
We will highlight the changes as we go through how to read the Nutrition Facts label.
Image Credit: FDA
Reading the Label
See the graphic for a description of these changes discussed below. When you look at the Nutrition Facts label on a food or beverage, start from the very top at “Nutrition Facts.” The next two things listed are servings per container and serving size (1 on new label graphic). The new label includes servings per container first and then a serving size in bold. Serving sizes have changed to reflect the amount of food typically eaten at one time. “Servings per container” tells us how many total servings there are in the package. One of the key things to remember about the Nutrition Facts label is that all of the nutritional information is based on the serving size.
Calories now appear in bold, making this information easier for consumers to find and read (2 on new label graphic). If you are counting calories, measure out one serving—the number of calories you see in bold will be in that one serving.
Total fat is now broken down into the different types of fat, including trans fat and saturated fat (3 on new label graphic). Food companies are not required to put the heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats) on the label, but they will often include them because they know consumers may want this information.
A new, convenient feature of the Nutrition Facts label is the breakdown of sugars, both naturally occurring, such as in fruit, and added (4 on new label graphic). The label still gives you the total amount of sugar, but it goes a step further and breaks that down into the grams from added sugar, such as in yogurts, drinks, and sauces. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing calories from added sugar to no more than 20 percent of total calories. This feature of the new label will greatly help consumers meet this goal.
Image Credit: FDA
According to the Dietary Guidelines, potassium, dietary fiber, choline, magnesium, calcium, and vitamins A, D, E, and C are nutrients that Americans consume below the Estimated Average Requirements or Adequate Intake levels. This means Americans are not consuming sufficient amounts of these nutrients. The nutrient list that must be on the label now includes vitamin D, potassium, iron, and calcium (5 on new label graphic). Vitamins A and C are no longer required to be on the label since most Americans consume adequate amounts. The manufacturer may choose to add other nutrients to the label.
The last thing you will see at the bottom of the label is a footnote about the Percent Daily Value Value, or DV (6 on new label graphic). The DV tells you how much a nutrient in the serving of food contributes to your daily diet. It is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. A rule of thumb to follow is the 5-20 rule: keep under 5 percent per serving nutrients such as saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. When positive nutrients, such as calcium, iron, and fiber, are above 20 percent of the DV, it means that the food is an excellent source of those nutrients.
Examine the Label
|Food||Servings per Container||Serving Size||Calories||Total Grams of Added Sugar|
|Cereal A||11||3/4 cup||130||9|
|Cereal B||11||3/4 cup||140||3|
Cereal B is the better choice since it has fewer grams of added sugar.
Goal: To consume less added sugar, read and compare the labels, and choose foods with less added sugar.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th ed. December 2015.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.” November 2017.
Prepared by Amber Denmon, extension educator. Reviewed by Lynn James, senior extension educator.