Quick Guide to Reading the Nutrition Facts label

Did you know that it wasn’t until 1990 that the FDA required packaged foods to have a nutrition facts label? In 1993, the standardized nutrition facts label was presented. The label received it’s first makeover in 2016; and by July 2021, all packaged foods have been required to update to the new label.

A nutrition facts label lists the carbohydrate, fat, protein, and fiber content of foods, as well as some micronutrients. Having this information easily accessible is all well and good… if you know what it means.

“What’s with the percentages?” Those numbers with the percent symbols next to them represent the nutrient’s “daily value” (DV). The percentage stands for what percent of your daily need for a nutrient is met by one serving of the food. The DV should only be used as a guide, since the percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and not everyone has the same daily calorie needs.

The DV for micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) will provide a better estimate of percentage of needs met, compared to the DV for macronutrients. This is because the micronutrient needs are relatively similar for most vitamins and minerals across the adult lifespan for healthy individuals. The biggest exception is pregnancy.

As a dietitian, when I look at nutrition facts label, the first numbers I look for are the saturated fat, added sugar, and fiber content of the food. Diets high in saturated fat and added sugars can contribute to many diseases including heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Fiber, however, can reduce decrease risk of heart disease and help aid in weight management since fiber is a satiety nutrient. The fourth nutrient I pay attention to is protein; the reason being that protein is another satiety nutrient. Choosing a food that contains more than a few grams of protein and fiber can make for a satisfying snack.

Learning how to quickly interpret nutrition facts labels is a wonderful tool for your health.

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