The food label is a graphic that tells you the nutritional value of the food you are eating. It can be found on packaged foods in the United States. The Food and Drug Administration is responsible for mandating the food label and it’s claims. Food labels can be useful for all consumers. However, individuals with specific dietary needs related to a disease state, medical condition or food allergy/intolerance should pay special attention to food labels.
Nutrition Facts Panel
The nutrition facts panel is an integral tool that can support making healthy food choices. Within this portion of the food label you will find the nutritional breakdown of your food, the ingredients in your food and any allergens to be aware of.
The FDA will require food manufacturers that accumulate $10 million or greater in annual sales to switch to the new label by January 1, 2020. Companies with less than $10 million annual in sales will have an additional year before their products must bear the new label. The goal of the label changes is to make the nutrition facts panel easier for consumers to read and comprehend. Some of the changes that will appear include making the “calories” larger and easier read and “calories from fat” is omitted from the label. Other changes include an update in serving sizes, making them more realistic of average consumption, addition of listing added sugars, and a change in the micronutrients at the bottom to consist of: vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.
Another portion of the nutrition facts panel is the ingredients list. This is normally located directly under the nutrition facts panel. This provides ingredients in the food listed in order of most present by weight to least present by weight. This means that if sugar is the first ingredient listed in the ingredients list, that is the most occurring ingredient in that food item. The ingredients list is beneficial because it allows the consumer to see what their food is made up of.
Beneath the ingredients list, some food products also tout an allergen warning. Allergen warnings must be listed on food products that are made with or manufactured in a plant where the “Big 8” food allergens are present. The eight most common food allergies are: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Food Label Claims
In addition to nutrient values, ingredients list, and food allergen warnings, the FDA also mandates the health claims that food manufactures promote on their products.
Here are some common health claims defined:
- “Low Calorie” items must be 40 calories or less
- “Sugar Free” means the item must contain 0.5 grams or less sugar
- “Low Fat” defines items with 3 grams of fat or less
- “Reduced fat or less fat” must have at least 25% less fat than the regular product
- “Light (lite)” includes items with at least 50% less fat than the regular product
Remember to look for these claims and utilize the nutrition facts panel to help support making healthful food choices.
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Labeling & Nutrition – Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm
- Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. (n.d.). Labeling & Nutrition – Guidance for Industry: Food Labeling Guide. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/food/guidanceregulation/guidancedocumentsregulatoryinformation/labelingnutrition/ucm2006828.htm
- The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label
- Food Labels. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.uclahealth.org/mattel/fitprogram/food-labels