Nutrition Labels – What Do They Really Mean?
Nutrition Apr 12, 2017
Nutrition Labels – What Do They Really Mean?

How many calories are in a serving? How much food is in a serving? Did you just eat one serving, or did you have two or three? What does all that other stuff on the nutrition label mean?

Nutrition labels: If you have ever been confused about them, you’re not alone. A 2012 Nielsen survey found that more than half of 25,000 consumers around the world considered themselves overweight, but 59 percent of the respondents stated that they had at least some difficulty understanding nutrition labels. 41 percent stated that they “mostly” understood the labels, but that number had declined three percentage points from 2008’s survey results.

Explaining Those Labels

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the agency who requires the labels and is responsible for determining what information they must contain, the first place on the label that people should look at is the serving size. The serving size is listed in standard measurements, such as cups or pieces. If you’re eating macaroni and cheese, for example, the serving size is one cup. However, there are two servings in the package. So, if you eat the entire package, you’re actually having two cups of macaroni and cheese and will need to double the amount of calories and daily values that are listed on the package.

When considering the calories and whether what you’re eating has a lot of them or not, the FDA offers the following guidelines, based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet: 40 calories per serving is considered to be a low calorie food. 100 calories per serving is considered moderate. 400 calories or more per serving is considered high.

The FDA encourages consumers to also pay attention to the saturated and trans fats listed on the label, as well as cholesterol and sodium, as too many of these nutrients may lead to chronic diseases such as heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. These items are listed in the yellow box. The blue box contains a list of nutrients that consumers should try and consume enough of each day to improve their health.

The daily value makes it easy for consumers to make comparisons between the nutrient content claims of products. For example, what is the difference between “reduced fat,” “light,” and “non-fat”? If you have similar serving sizes, you can quickly find that information by checking the daily values of the fats that are listed on the labels. Additionally, the daily value allows consumers to make “dietary trade-offs” during the day. By understanding that the food they’re eating now is high in fat, they can choose lower fat options throughout the day to balance the fat intake out.

Trying To Ease Confusion

According to a recent article from Food Processing, the FDA is gearing up to make its first mandated changes to the nutrition labels on food packaging in more than 20 years. Food and beverage processors with annual sales of more than $10 million have until July 2018 to comply, while smaller processors must comply by 2019. Some of the changes that are going to be made include:

  • Larger, bolded font for the calories per serving and serving size. In addition, serving sizes must reflect the amount that an average adult person would eat.
  • Because it is difficult to meet nutritional needs and stay within the daily calorie count if more than ten percent of a person’s total daily calories comes from processed sugars, the new labels must state how much sugar was added to the product.
  • Vitamins A and C will no longer be listed on the labels, as Americans tend to get plenty of those. Instead, the labels will provide the daily values of vitamin D, calcium, iron, potassium. Additionally, the labels must state not only the percentage of the daily value, but also the actual amount of those nutrients per serving.
  • The listing of “calories from fat” is being removed from the labels, but labels must contain the amounts for “total fat,” “saturated fat,” and “trans fat.”
  • Labels must reveal the new daily values for sodium, fiber, and calcium.

More Changes To Come

Food Processing states that there will be more labeling changes to come, including changes to meat, poultry, eggs, and other products that are regulated by the FDA. Implementing the changes is expected to cost about $500 million per year, but the FDA believes that the changes will provide about $2 billion in benefits such as health care costs each year.