If you’ve ever bought groceries then you’ve probably seen a nutrition facts panel before. Whether or not you were able to decipher it is another question.  How would you know how much fat or sugar is considered healthy or unhealthy unless you’ve taken a basic nutrition course or somehow read up on it from a credible (non-wikipedia) source?  On top of containing dozens of numbers, one major issue with current nutrition panels is that there is no context—no way of knowing what you should be avoiding or having more of.

The Nutrition Facts label was introduced to food products in the US about 20 years ago. Its purpose was to help consumers make informed food choices and maintain healthy dietary practices.  But how could this ever happen if people didn’t understand it in the first place?  In 2014, the FDA finally proposed changes and updates to the panel in hopes of making it easier to understand and apply. However, legislation on these changes has yet to pass.

Until then, here is a brief (and hopefully clear) explanation of Daily Value (DV) and the percentages listed next to each nutrient. Most (but not all) nutrients have a daily value. Simply put, the daily value (which is not listed on nutrition labels) is the amount of each nutrient that an average person (above age 4) needs for basic health—assuming the average person also requires about 2,000 calories per day.  The percentage shows the amount of the DV that the food provides per serving. For example, the DV for calcium is 1000 milligrams. If the label says “calcium….40%” then that food provides 40% of 1000 mg per serving, which is 400 mg.

The problem is many people are not average and many may not require 2,000 calories per day.  In fact, true nutrient requirements are very specific to factors like age group, gender, pre-existing conditions, level of physical activity, etc. But if the FDA made a separate nutrient label for each sub-group of people (e.g. women age 21-30, men 50+, etc.), then the entire packaging might be covered in numbers, making it even more confusing to consumers. To minimize confusion, the FDA created DVs so that consumers got a general idea of the nutrients provided by that food.

Not all vitamins and minerals are required to be listed on a label.  Most are actually voluntary except for Vitamin A, C, sodium, iron and calcium.  These nutrients are ones that the FDA has determined most Americans don’t get enough of (except for sodium) and thus need to be listed.  On the contrary, Americans typically get too much sodium, so it there for awareness.  If a product does not list additional nutrients it is either not provided by that food or the manufacturer has not tested the amount.

Based on the percentages provided by a certain nutrient, a manufacturer can make a “high source of…” or “good source of…” claim.  These claims are usually found on the front of the packaging (rather than on the back where the nutrition label is) to grab consumers attention about a nutrient–mainly beneficial vitamins and minerals.  That is, you’d probably never see a product claiming they had a “high” source of fat or carbs, because those are things Americans typically get more than enough of.  But for example, if you know you needed more fiber in your diet (because who doesn’t?), you may consider looking for products that were a good or high source of fiber.

Wouldn’t it be great if all produce sections had this type of advertising? Growing Naturals, Nutrition Facts Label explained

According to FDA standards:

  • A “Good source of…” claim may be made when a serving of a finished food product provides 10-19% of the DV of a nutrient.
  • A “High source of…” claim may be made when a serving of a finished food product provides 20% of the DV or more of a nutrient.
  • A serving of product providing less than 10% DV of a nutrient is a poor source (albeit still a source) of that nutrient.
  Amount Provided per Serving*
Nutrient

DV

Good Source

10 – 19% DV

Excellent Source

20% DV or more

Total Fat

65 grams (g)

 n/a  n/a
Saturated Fat

20 g

 n/a  n/a
Cholesterol

300 mg

 n/a  n/a
Sodium

2,400 mg

 n/a  n/a
Potassium

3,500 mg

350 – 665 mg

>665 mg

Total Carbohydrate

300 g

 n/a  n/a
Dietary Fiber

25 g

2.5 – 4.75 g

> 4.75 g

Protein

50 g

5 – 9.5 mg

> 9.5 g

Vitamin A

5,000 International Units (IU)

500 – 950 IU

> 950 IU

Vitamin C

60 mg

6 – 11.4 mg

> 11.4 mg

Calcium

1000 mg

100 – 190 mg

> 190 mg

Iron

18 mg

1.8 – 3.4 mg

> 3.4 mg

Vitamin D

400 IU

40 – 76 IU

> 76 IU

Vitamin E

30 IU

3 – 5.7 IU

> 5.7 IU

Vitamin K

80 micrograms (mcg)

8 – 15.2 mcg

> 15.2 mcg

Thiamin (B1)

1.5 mg

0.15 – 0.29 mg

> 0.29 mg

Riboflavin (B2)

1.7 mg

0.17 – 0.32 mg

> 0.32 mg

Niacin (B3)

20 mg

2 – 3.8 mg

> 3.8 mg

Vitamin B6

2 mg

0.2 – 0.38 mg

> 0.38 mg

Folate

400 mcg

 40 – 76 mcg

> 76 mcg

Vitamin B12

6 mcg

0.6 – 1.14 mcg

> 1.14 mcg

Biotin

300 mcg

30 – 57 mcg

> 57 mcg

Pantothenic Acid

10 mg

1 – 1.9 mg

> 1.9 mg

Phosphorous

1000 mg

100 – 190 mg

> 190 mg

Iodine

150 mcg

15 – 28.5 mcg

> 28.5 mcg

Magnesium

400 mg

40 – 76 mg

> 76 mg

Zinc

15 mg

1.5 – 2.85 mg

> 2.85 mg

Selenium

70 mcg

7 – 13.3 mcg

> 13.3 mcg

Copper

2 mg

0.2 – 0.38 mg

> 0.38 mg

Manganese

2 mg

0.2 – 0.38 mg

> 0.38 mg

Chromium

120 mcg

12 – 22.8 mcg

> 22.8 mcg

Molybdenum

75 mcg

7.5 – 14.25 mcg

> 14.25 mcg

*Amounts shown were calculated from the DV for each nutrient as presented in this FDA document last updated on 8/20/15.

 

By: Scarlett Blandon, in-house Registered Dietitian
October 29, 2015

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