Understanding Food Labels

Written By:
Stefanie Dove, RDN
School Nutrition Marketing Coordinator and Registered Dietitian
Loudoun County Public Schools

Understanding the information on the food label might seem overwhelming or even confusing, however, today’s post will help breakdown the information on the label so that you can feel empowered the next time you venture to the grocery store.  Reading food labels will allow you to find out more about the foods you eat, thus helping you to make informed food buying decisions for your family.  Our school nutrition team looks at all of our nutrition labels in detail for all items we serve and prepare for students daily.

new_food_labels

The current Nutrition Facts panel found on most food labels will be changing very soon as manufacturers have until July 2018 to comply with these changes, however, you will notice that some have already started this transition. These changes to the label will help make some of the information easier to find, easy to read, and most importantly, easier to understand. Some of the most noticeable changes are:

  • Serving sizes: The serving sizes listed on packaging now reflect what people currently eat, rather than what a company may view as reasonable. This means that some serving sizes that were equivalent to only a few chips might now reflect the whole package.
  • Calories: The total number of calories per serving is now highlighted in a large font rather than being in the same type size as the other nutrition information.
  • Added sugars: This is something that is completely new to the nutrition label.  Similar to how fat is broken down on the label, added sugars will now be measured in both grams and as a percent daily value. This change will allow consumers to see the difference between sugars added during processing versus sugars that come naturally, such as in fresh fruits and dairy.
  • Multi-serving Products: For those products that contain multiple servings, there will now be two columns to indicate the per serving and per package calorie nutrition information to allow for easier label reading.
  • Unconventional Serving Sizes: All food items that are between one and two servings such as a 20-oz bottle of soda or juice, will now be labeled as one serving to help eliminate confusion.
  • Dietary Fiber and Sodium: The percent daily values for sodium, dietary fiber and vitamin D will change for many foods based on the new 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations. This means that the new recommendations either increase or decrease the amount you need to eat to satisfy those needs. An example of this is the previous recommendation for Americans to eat up to 25 grams of fiber day as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.  The new recommendations encourage up to 28 grams a day, so if a food item contains 5 grams of fiber per serving, the old label would have listed 20 for the percent daily value. The new food label will have 18 percent for the percent daily value.
  • Vitamin D and potassium: Labels will now include both the percent daily values and the gram amount since these are nutrients that American’s are not getting enough of on a daily basis.
  • Vitamins A and C: These will no longer be required on labels since the average American receives an adequate amount of these nutrients on a daily basis and deficiencies are rare.
  • Fat: The “Calories from Fat” line will be eliminated, however, “Total Fat,” and the subcategories “Saturated Fat,” and “Trans Fat” will still be required since new research shows that the type of fat consumed is important.

The Benefits of Reading Nutrition Labels

•Reading labels can help you determine which foods are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
•You can compare similar foods to find out which one is lower in calories, sugar, fat, etc.
•Nutrition labels help you to check your portion sizes to against the serving size listed on the label.Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help you evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily eating plan:
•You can review the percent Daily Values (DV) to help you assess how specific foods fit into your daily eating plan for the entire day and are based on a person consuming 2,000 calories per day.  Keep in mind that depending on how many calories you eat each day, you may need more or less than 100% DV.

Use Nutrition Labels to Help You Monitor These Things:

  • Try to select foods with saturated fats containing less than 10% of total calories daily by replacing them with unsaturated fats.
  • Avoid and limit trans fats to as low as possible.New guidelines recommend limiting sodium to less than 2,300 mg daily (for adults and children 14 years and older).
  • Keep added sugars to less than 10% of total calories daily.

For more food label information, visit the Food and Drug Administration  or contact LCPS School Nutrition Services for additional information as we are happy to help answer any questions you might have. 

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