The food label can help you make healthy food choices
Suppose you’re in the dairy aisle of a supermarket trying to select a carton of milk. You want to watch your fat intake, so you have narrowed your choices to reduced-fat 2% milk or nonfat milk.
How do they compare in terms of calories, fat, and other nutrients per serving? How do you decide which is more healthful? The answer is simple: Look at the labels. All the information that you need to make a smart choice is provided on one area of the label, the Nutrition Facts panel.
On the Label:
The Nutrition Facts Panel
The Nutrition Facts panel provides a nutritional snapshot of the food inside a package. By law, the panel must list the following per serving of the food:
- Calories and calories from fat
- Total fat, saturated fat, and trans fat
- Total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, and sugars
- Vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron
If an additional nutrient, such as vitamin E or vitamin B12, has been added, or if the product makes a claim about a nutrient, then that nutrient must also be listed. Other nutrients, such as additional vitamins and minerals, can be listed by the manufacturer on a voluntary basis. The majority of the packaged foods you purchase will contain this nutrition information.
The Nutrition Facts
At the top is the serving size. By law, the serving size must be listed both by weight in grams (less useful to you) and in common household measures, such as cups and ounces (more useful to you). Because serving sizes are standardized among similar food products, you can compare one brand of macaroni and cheese with a different brand to assess which one better meets your needs.
The rest of the information is based on the listed serving size (in this case, one cup) of the food. For example, if you ate two servings (two cups) of this macaroni and cheese, which is the number of servings in the entire box, you would double the nutrient information on the label to calculate the calories as well as the fat and other nutrients. The servings-per-container information is particularly useful for portion control.
Below the serving size is listed the calories per serving. The calories from fat give you an idea of what proportion of the food’s calories comes from fat. In this box of macaroni and cheese, 110 out of a total of 250 calories-that is, nearly half-are from fat. Next are the nutrients that you should limit or add to your diet. Americans typically eat too much fat, including saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol, and too much sodium. In contrast, they tend to fall short in dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, and iron. These are on the label to remind you to make sure to eat foods rich in these substances. The Nutrition Facts can be your best shopping guide when identifying and choosing foods that are low in the nutrients you want to limit (like saturated fat) and high in the nutrients that you need to eat in higher amounts (like fiber).
Are you wondering what determines if a food contains a “high” or “low” amount of a specific nutrient? That’s where the Daily Values come into play.
The Nutrition Facts panel lists standardized serving sizes, specific nutrients, and shows how a serving of the food fits into a healthy diet by stating its contribution to the percentage of the Daily
Value for each nutrient. The old cereal box doesn’t contain this information. The name of the product must be displayed on the front label.
The ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight. This format is missing in the old box.
Whole-grain wheat is the predominant ingredient in the current cereal box. The net weight of the food in the box must now be located at the bottom of the package
Nutrition Facts panel - The area on the food label that provides a uniform listing of specific nutrients obtained in one serving of the food.