What you need to know — from the FDA — about what’s on food labels 

Published 11:19 am Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Nutrition 101


It’s clear that people are becoming more aware of what they eat for one reason or another. Some folks are watching their sugar intake and others are avoiding sodium. 

Email newsletter signup

People question what’s in their food more now than ever. No matter what answers you’re trying to find, the nutrition facts label on food products is a great place to start. 

Straight from the Food and Drug Administration, here are the things to know about the nutrition facts label on food products.

The label can be extremely helpful in making food decisions based on its information. Looking at the label, let’s move top to bottom and break down its sections. 

Firs,t you will find the serving size and number of servings per container. This can be a bit shocking to find that there may be more than one serving per container of some food products. Instead of one container being considered a serving, you may actually be consuming four servings. Knowing how many servings can help keep portions under control.

The next part is usually the calorie amount, which can help you realize how many calories are in one serving, not the whole container. Let’s be real — a pint of ice cream has more than one serving in it. Say you have a pint of ice cream that has four servings at 200 calories per serving. If you eat the whole thing, you have just consumed 800 calories of ice cream. 

An average, active adult is supposed to get 2,000 calories total for one day. An inactive adult with a sedentary lifestyle should have even fewer calories per day. Eight-hundred calories from ice cream alone? That’s a significant amount of your daily value just from one food item. Think about that next time you decide to smash a pint of your favorite Ben and Jerry’s.

You will notice also on the nutrition facts label that there are daily values (DV) given for nutrients in that food product. Nutrients denoted in yellow, such as fat, sodium and cholesterol, need to be limited. These particular nutrients increase your risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. 

If the daily value percentage is less than 5 percent, then that food is considered low in that nutrient. Low fat items would contain less than 5 percent of fat per serving. Nutrients that you need to get more of are denoted in blue such as vitamins A, C, calcium, iron and fiber. 

A food product with 20 percent or more of those nutrients is considered to be high in those nutrients. These vitamins and minerals are good for you and can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases and even improve your health.

Understanding the footnote on the bottom of the nutrition facts label can make daily values a little bit clearer. This section explains that the daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. 

Look at the amounts circled in red in the footnote — these are the daily values for each nutrient listed and are based on public health experts’ advice. DVs are recommended levels of intakes. DVs in the footnote are based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. Note how the DVs for some nutrients change, while others (for cholesterol and sodium) remain the same for both calorie amounts.

Trends may come and go, but striving for good nutrition should be a habit. Looking at the nutrition facts label may take an extra second in the grocery store, but making a healthier choice can add years to your life. 

Take the time to know what you’re eating, you won’t regret it. If you ever have any questions about understanding a nutrition facts label, don’t hesitate to ask.

If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at a.price@uky.edu