Who is the FDA? The FDA "is responsible for assuring that foods sold in the United States are safe, wholesome and properly labeled. This applies to foods produced domestically, as well as foods from foreign countries. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act) and the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act are the Federal laws governing food products under FDA's jurisdiction." "The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which amended the FD&C Act requires most foods to bear nutrition labeling and requires food labels that bear nutrient content claims and certain health messages to comply with specific requirements."
"The Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), which amended the FD&C Act requires most foods to bear nutrition labeling and requires food labels that bear nutrient content claims and certain health messages to comply with specific requirements." This act specifies where the nutrition label should go on the package, what font size to use and even what information is required to be placed on a package. The following are some interesting bits of information about this act. I have italicized the areas that were a surprise to me:
- Serving Size - A package that is sold individually and contains less that 200% of the applicable reference amount is considered to be one serving. However, for products that have reference amounts of 100 g (or ml) of larger, manufacturers may decide whether a package that contains more than 150% but less than 200% of the reference amount is 1 or 2 servings. When a product contains 200% or more of the reference amount, the manufacturer may label the product as a single serving if the entire package can reasonably be consumed at one sitting.
- Servings per Container - If the number of servings is between 2 and 5 servings it is rounded to the nearest .5 servings.
- Calories - Calories must be in bold print. "Calories from Fat" must be declared unless the product contains < 0.5 g total fat. "Calories" may be followed by the optional term "Energy" in parenthesis.
- Fat - Total fat must be in bold print and listed in grams. Saturated fat must be listed in grams, but is not required if the food contains less than 0.5 grams of total fat per serving and if no claims are made about fat or cholesterol content.
- Cholesterol - Is not required, if the product contains less than 2 milligrams cholesterol per serving and makes no claim about fat, saturated fat or cholesterol; and if not declared, the statement "Not a significant source of cholesterol" must be included at the bottom of the nutrient table.
- Sodium - Foods for infants and children under 4 years of age may list the mg. amount, but may not list the % Daily Value for sodium.
- Dietary Fiber and Sugars - "Dietary Fiber" in grams is not required if the serving contains less than 1 gram. If not declared, the statement "Not a significant source of dietary fiber" must be included at the bottom of the nutrient table. "Sugars" is not required if a serving contains less than 1 gram of sugar and no claims are made about sweeteners, sugars, or sugar alcohol content, and if not declared, the statement "Not a significant source of sugars" must be included at the bottom of the nutrient table.
- Protein - Declaration of % Daily Value is not required when the food is for adults or children over 4 years of age unless a protein claim is made. However, when the food is for adults or children over 1 year of age and the protein is of poor quality, the label should state "0%" in % DV column or state "Not a significant source of protein." The statement "Not a significant source of protein" is required if the food is purported to be for infants and has a Protein Efficiency Ratio (PER) of less than 40 percent of the reference standard (casein).
- Declaration of Vitamins and Minerals - Nutritional information as the percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for the following nutrients is MANDATORY and must be declared in the order listed: "Vitamin A, Vitamin C (Ascorbic Acid), Calcium, Iron"
The information in the main or top section (see #1-4 and #6 on the sample nutrition label below), can vary with each food product; it contains product-specific information (serving size, calories, and nutrient information). The bottom part (see #5 on the sample label below) contains a footnote with Daily Values (DVs) for 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets. This footnote provides recommended dietary information for important nutrients, including fats, sodium and fiber. The footnote is found only on larger packages and does not change from product to product.
- Serving Size - The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, "How many servings am I consuming"? (e.g., 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more).
- Calories (and Calories from Fat) - Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Many Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight (i.e., gain, lose, or maintain.) Remember: the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat (your portion amount).
- General Guide to Calories (Based on a 2,000 calorie diet)
- 40 Calories is low
- 100 Calories is moderate
- 400 Calories or more is high
- Limit these nutrients (Total fat, cholesterol, sodium)
- The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or even too much.
- Get enough of these (Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium and Iron)
- Most Americans don't get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets.
- Note the * used after the heading "%Daily Value" on the Nutrition Facts label. It refers to the Footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label, which tells you "%DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet". This statement must be on all food labels.
- For each nutrient listed there is a DV, a %DV, and dietary advice or a goal. If you follow this dietary advice, you will stay within public health experts' recommended upper or lower limits for the nutrients listed, based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet.
- The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients but only for a 2,000 calorie daily diet--not 2,500 calories.
- The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient.
- 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high.
- This guide tells you that 5%DV or less is low for all nutrients, those you want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), or for those that you want to consume in greater amounts (fiber, calcium, etc). As the Quick Guide shows, 20%DV or more is high for all nutrients.
The FDA has initiated several campaigns to get Americans to read the nutrition facts label and make healthy food choices based upon the information contained on the labels. They have the "Spot the Block" campaign for children 9-13 and "Make Your Calories Count" to help consumers "plan a healthful diet while managing calorie intake." They also encourage Americans to follow the "Dietary Guidelines" to help people choose an "overall healthy diet."
Until I started reading labels, I blindly chose products which looked good or I knew tasted good. However, after reading several labels, it became clear that many of the foods that I enjoyed were too high in carbohydrates, fat or sodium. I did not realize that many products that are packaged to appear to be a single serving actually contain several servings. Unfortunately, that meant that all of the information on the label needed to be adjusted if I were to consume the entire package. Do you read labels? If not, what will it take to make you read labels more consistently? Unfortunately, for me, it took having diabetes to read labels.