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How to Read Food Labels: Understanding Claims & Components

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  • 0:02 Nutrition Facts Label
  • 0:47 Reading a Food Label
  • 2:51 Percent Daily Value
  • 5:08 Nutrient Content &…
  • 6:31 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The nutritional facts label provides information about the nutrient content of a food item. Learn about the components found on the label, as well as additional nutrient content claims and health claims that food manufacturers can add to packaging in this lesson.

Nutrition Facts Label (Food Label)

We all need to eat because food is the fuel that keeps the body running, but how do you know what nutrients are in your morning bowl of cereal or how many calories were in that serving of ice cream you had last night?

Well, finding that information is as easy as picking up the package the food came in and reading the nutrition facts label, commonly referred to as the 'food label.' This label is designed to provide information about the nutrient content of the food item so consumers can make informed food choices. Food labels are not just a good idea; they're required for most packaged foods. This lesson will build your understanding of how to read the different components of the nutrition label and shed light on the various claims you see printed on food packages.

Reading a Food Label

The FDA has proposed some changes to the current nutrition facts label. We see both the old and the proposed new label here.

Old and new food label styles

The top of the label also specifies the 'Servings per Container.' In other words, the number of servings you would consume if you ate the entire package. As we move down the food label, we see the 'Calories' per serving are listed next, and depending on which version you look at, you may also see 'Calories from Fat' listed here. If you're watching your weight, you want to pay attention to all of these components. For example, if a serving of macaroni and cheese has 250 calories, but there are two servings in the container, then you would double your calories by eating the whole box.

The next section of the food label lists nutrients found within the serving. And, if you look closely, you see that the first nutrients listed include 'Total Fats,' which are further broken down into 'Saturated Fats' and 'Trans Fats,' along with 'Cholesterol' and 'Sodium.' For most people, these are the nutrients they have no trouble consuming enough of due to our love for processed foods and fast foods. In fact, these are often considered the nutrients we should limit in our diet to improve health.

The other nutrients listed in this section include 'Total Carbohydrates,' which are broken down into 'Dietary Fiber' and sugars, as well as proteins. These nutrients are followed by some key vitamins and minerals. The food label provides information on these vitamins and minerals as well as fiber because these are nutrients that most people do not get enough of in their daily diet. Boosting your intake of these nutrients can boost your health and may reduce your risk of chronic disease. For example, eating adequate amounts of fiber promotes a healthy digestive system and may lower your risk of heart disease.

Percent Daily Value (% DV)

Now, you might have noticed that these nutrients have a percentage listed beside them. In fact, if you look below the calorie listing, you will see the heading % Daily Value or % DV. This is the percentage of the nutrient in the serving based on a 2,000-calorie diet. For example, if your container of yogurt contains 20% of the Daily Value for calcium, it provides 20% of the calcium you need to eat that day if you're following a 2,000-calorie diet.

The % Daily Value helps you quickly determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. A quick guide for evaluating the health value of a food is to follow The 5/20 Rule. Here is how the rule works. If a food has 5% Daily Value or less, it is low in that nutrient. If it has 20% Daily Value or more, it is high in that nutrient.

So, a glass of artificial orange drink may have less than 5% calcium, making it a poor source of calcium, whereas a glass of milk might have 25% calcium, making it a good source. By the way, this rule also works for nutrients that you might want to limit in your diet, such as saturated fats or sodium. For these nutrients, try to find foods that contain less than 5% of the Daily Value.

The asterisk beside the % Daily Value is there to make you aware of the 'Footnote' area of the food label that tells you that the percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This statement is required on every food label, but if the food item is too small, the remaining information we see here in the 'Footnote' may be excluded.

On small products, the bottom of the standard food label may be excluded
Food label

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