Understanding the nutrition facts label to help you find the healthiest packaged foods and drinks

  • 2 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

Is understanding the nutrition facts label sometimes confusing? How do you decide which foods to put in your cart or leave on the shelf when grocery shopping? A food product's nutrition facts label and ingredient list can help you decide. Ultimately, a solid understanding of the nutrition facts label can help make grocery shopping a lot easier and ensure that the items you take home make up a healthy diet.

Understanding the nutrition facts label

Increase your understanding of the nutrition facts label

For the first time in two decades, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration made a significant change to the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods in 2016. A result of years of research and consideration among health and nutrition experts, these changes include feedback from the public. The nutrition facts label has a modern look and highlights the correlation between diet and obesity and heart disease. See the most significant updates below.

1. Serving Size

Shown in a large font, serving size is easy to read. The serving size reflects the actual amount of a food or drink usually consumed as opposed to a “recommended” serving size. Also, certain foods that you may eat in one sitting, such as a 15-ounce can of soup, are labeled as one serving.

2. Calories

Calories appear in a large, bold font, making it easy to read, especially for busy shoppers who need to make quick decisions. If you are striving to lose weight, you’ll want to pay close attention to this information as eating more calories than your body needs results in weight gain.

3. Daily Values and percent daily values

Daily Values are the recommended amounts of a certain nutrient to consume (and in some cases, not exceed) in a day. Daily Values are also used to calculate the percent daily value on the label. This information helps figure out if an item is low or high in a specific nutrient, which is important information when trying to find the healthiest packaged foods. The Daily Values were updated for nutrients such as sodium, dietary fiber, and vitamin D. To learn more about the Daily Value changes check out: Daily Value on the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Label

MyNetDiary allows you to personalize the Daily Values using a feature called percent of my nutrition targets. This feature lets you compare foods and understand how they impact your own personal percent daily value.

4. Added sugars now appear on the food label.

Before the nutrition facts label was updated, only total sugars appeared for packaged foods. Now consumers can differentiate between added and naturally occurring sugars in foods and drinks. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 10% or less of their calories from added sugars each day.

5. Other nutrient updates on the nutrition facts label

Potassium and vitamin D are now required on the food label. These nutrients are generally under-consumed by Americans. Interestingly, vitamin A and vitamin C no longer show up on the food label.

The definition of what counts as dietary fiber was also expanded on the new label. Specifically, the FDA broadened their definition of dietary fiber to include both natural and synthetic fiber, if there was evidence to show the type of added fiber in a product was beneficial to human health. For more information about the updates to the definition of dietary fiber check out: Questions and Answers on Dietary Fiber

While the healthiest foods and drinks do not come in a box or bag, not everything in a package is bad for you. Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the nutrition facts label. Then you’ll feel more confident in making informed decisions about the healthiest packaged foods to take home to your friends and family!

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Reviewed and updated by Brenda Braslow on January 15, 2024.

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Nutrients->Food label
Jan 19, 2024

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