How to read a nutrition label


A brief history of the nutrition label

The idea of a nutrition label is relatively new in regards to how long packaged food has been around. In 1990 The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act was passed, this provides FDA with specific authority to require nutrition labeling of most foods. This also required that all nutrient content claims and health claims be consistent with agency regulations (read here). On May 27, 2016 the FDA made some updates to the traditional nutrition label that we are used to seeing in an effort to help consumers better understand what all is included in the product before purchase.You can read more about that here. It is also important to note that produce that is not pre-packaged is not required to have a nutrition label on it.

Navigating the nutrition label

To read a nutrition label you can start at the top of the label. This is where you will find out what a serving size of the product is, how many servings per container, and two different measurement types of that serving size(grams, ounces, cups, etc).  Knowing this can help determine personal serving sizes especially if your macros do not allow for a full portion of the product. This is also important because all of the percentages listed out for the calories, macros, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins, and minerals will be per serving.  Recently more products have started including nutritional information for the entire package adjacent to that of the serving size. After the serving size of a product you will see the calories per servings.Next is the total fat of a product with the different types of fat that are included in the product listed below. If a product includes trans fat it is required to list it and the amount that it contains.  Cholesterol and sodium are listed after total fat and these three should be monitored when not consuming whole foods and limited in consumption in general.Total carbohydrate is next and is broken down into sugar and fiber. With these new label guidelines companies are now going to be required to label the added sugar inside of a food product. Because of this you may also see total sugar listed more under total carbohydrates with a break down of the sugars included in a product. The way fiber is calculated is scheduled to be updated as well but it may not be as noticeable. Currently the definition of what should be included in dietary fiber is being reviewed so that what is listed for dietary fiber is only fiber that is beneficial to health. Another change to the label is Vitamin A and C which are no longer required and are now voluntary listings. This change is because in the early 1990s when nutritional labels were being established American diets lacked Vitamins A and C, but now Vitamins A and C deficiencies in the general population are rare. The minerals Calcium and Iron are still required to be listed on the food label. These along with fiber are required to be listed on the label in an effort to get Americans to get in enough of these nutrients. The last thing to be listed on the nutrition label is footnotes about daily values usually including variations of a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diet.