On the Label: The Daily Values
Unlike the DRIs, which are precise recommended amounts of each nutrient that you should eat, the Daily Values (DVs) listed on the Nutrition Facts panel are general reference levels for the nutrients listed on the food label.
The DVs give you a ballpark idea of how the nutrients in the foods you buy fit into your overall diet. For example, if calcium is listed at 20 percent, a serving of that food provides 20 percent of most adults’ daily requirement for calcium. However, if you are under 19 years of age or older than 50, your calcium needs are higher than the reference number used on the DV.
Since the DVs on the food label are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, if you need more or fewer than 2,000 calories daily, some of your DV numbers may be higher or lower than those listed on the
The DVs are based on older reference levels and are not as current as the DRIs. For example, whereas the DRIs recommend an upper level of dietary sodium of no more than 2,300 milligrams (daily), the DVs use less than 2,400 milligrams as the reference level.
There are no DVs listed on the label for trans fat, sugars, and protein. This is because there isn’t enough information available to set reference values for trans fat and sugars. Although there are reference values for protein, consuming adequate amounts of protein isn’t a health concern for most Americans over age 4, so listing the percent of the DV for this nutrient isn’t warranted on the label. The DV for protein will only be listed if the product is being marketed for children under the age of 4, such as a jar of baby food, or if a claim is made about the food, such as that it is “high in protein.” If a serving provides 20 percent or more of the DV, it is considered high in that nutrient. For example, a serving of this macaroni and cheese is high in sodium (not a healthy attribute) and is also high in calcium (a healthy attribute). If you eat this entrée for lunch, you’ll need to eat less sodium during the rest of the day. However, the good news is that a serving of this pasta meal also provides 20 percent of the DV for calcium.
If a nutrient provides 5 percent or less of the DV, it is considered low in that nutrient. A serving of macaroni and cheese doesn’t provide much fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, or iron. You will need to add other foods to supply these nutrients to your diet on the days that you eat macaroni and cheese.
Lastly, depending on the size of the food package, there may be a footnote at the bottom of the label. This provides a summary of the DVs for a 2,000-calorie diet as well as a 2,500-calorie diet. This area of the panel provides you with a little “cheat sheet” to help you when you are shopping so that you don’t have to memorize the values. As you can see from the footnote, you should try to keep your sodium intake to less than 2,400 milligrams daily. Since you know that this macaroni and cheese is high in sodium, providing 20 percent of the DV, or 470 milligrams, of sodium, you should try to keep the sodium in your remaining food choices during the day to less than 2,000 milligrams.
Now that you know how to read the Nutrition Facts panel, let’s return to the milk question posed at the beginning of this section and use what you’ve learned to compare the reduced-fat 2% and nonfat milk labels.
Let’s start at the top:
1. Both cartons have the same standardized one-cup serving, which makes the comparison easy.
2. The reduced-fat milk has 50 percent more calories than the nonfat milk; almost 40 percent of the calories in the reduced-fat milk are from fat.
3. Use the percent of the DV to assess whether the milk is considered “high” or “low” in a given nutrient. For instance, a serving of reduced-fat milk provides more than 5 percent of the DV for total and saturated fat (as well as cholesterol), so it isn’t considered “low” in these nutrients. In fact, the saturated fat provides 15 percent of the DV, which is getting close to the definition of “high” (20 percent of the DV). In contrast, the nonfat milk doesn’t contain any fat, saturated fat, or cholesterol, so it appears so far to be the healthier choice.
4. However, since being low in fat doesn’t necessarily mean being healthier, let’s make sure that the nonfat milk is as nutritious as the reduced-fat variety. Comparing the remaining nutrients, especially calcium and vitamin D, confirms that the nonfat milk has all the vitamins and minerals that reduced-fat milk does, but with fewer calories and less fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. In fact, both milks provide a “high” amount of calcium and vitamin D. So, when it comes to choosing milk, the nonfat version is the smarter choice. While the Nutrition Facts panel on the side or back of the package can help you make healthier food choices, some foods carry claims on their front labels that may also influence your decision to buy.
In one consumer survey, more than 40 percent of respondents said they had purchased foods that claimed to reduce the risk of heart disease and more than 25 percent had chosen items that claimed to reduce the risk of cancer. Health claims do influence food decisions.
Daily Values (DVs) - Established reference levels of nutrients, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, that are used on food labels.
What’s Missing on This Label?
Test your label know-how! Visit www.pearsonhighered.com/blake and complete this interactive NutriTools activity.