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Diet and Nutrition

New and Improved Food Labels Are Here!

The Food and Drug Administration of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture have updated the Nutrition Facts section of the food label as of January 2006. Under the new guidelines, manufacturers must list trans fat in addition to saturated fat and cholesterol. Trans fat- the type of fat listed in ingredients as 'hydrogenated' or 'partially hydrogenated' fat has been linked with the development of coronary artery disease because it raises blood cholesterol levels.


Nutrition Information Panel

Under the label's "Nutrition Facts" panel, manufacturers are required to provide information about certain nutrients. The mandatory (Bolded) and voluntary components and the order in which they have to appear are:

Sample Label
  • total calories
  • calories from fat
  • calories from saturated fat
  • total fat
  • saturated fat
  • trans fat
  • polyunsaturated fat
  • monounsaturated fat
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • potassium
  • total carbohydrate
  • dietary fiber
  • soluble fiber
  • insoluble fiber
  • sugars
  • sugar alcohol (for example, the sugar substitutes xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol)
  • other carbohydrate (the difference between total carbohydrate and the sum of dietary fiber, sugars, and sugar alcohol if declared)
  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • percent of vitamin A present as beta-carotene
  • vitamin C
  • calcium
  • iron
  • other essential vitamins and minerals

Additional information about a food's nutritional content can be listed on the Nutrition Facts label with specific guidelines. For example, voluntary information about types of fiber, polyunsaturated fat or potassium can be included. Foods fortified with other nutrients must list these nutrients on the label. If a claim is made about any of the optional nutrients, (such as folate and birth defects), or if a food is fortified with additional nutrients, information must be provided on the label.

The FDA is also amending the voluntary nutrition labeling regulations by updating the names and the nutrition labeling values for the 20 most frequently consumed raw fruits, vegetables, and fish in the United States and clarifying guidelines for the voluntary nutrition labeling of these foods. Availability of the updated nutrition labeling values in retail stores and on individually packaged raw fruits, vegetables, and fish will enable consumers to make better purchasing decisions to reflect their dietary needs.


Daily Reference Values--DRVs

DRVs have been established for macronutrients that are sources of calories and include fat, saturated fat, total carbohydrate (including fiber), and protein. DRVs have also been developed for cholesterol, sodium and potassium, which do not contribute calories.

DRVs for the calorie-containing nutrients are based on the number of calories consumed per day. A daily intake of 2,000 calories has been established as the reference. This level was chosen, because it approximates the caloric requirements for postmenopausal women. This population is most at risk for excessive intake of calories and fat.

DRVs for the calorie-containing nutrients are calculated as follows:

Nutrition Panel Format

All nutrients must be declared as percentages of the Daily Values. These are label reference values. The amount of macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, cholesterol, and sodium) are listed to the immediate right of these nutrients in grams or milligrams. For the first time, a column headed "% Daily Value" appears on the far right side.

Quantifying nutrients as a percentage of the Daily Values is intended to prevent confusion that may arise with numeric values. For example, a food with 140 milligrams (mg) of sodium could be mistaken for a high-sodium food because 140 is a relatively large number. In reality, that amount represents less than 6 percent of the Daily Value of 2,400 mg for sodium.

On the other hand, a food with 5 g of saturated fat could be seen as being low in that nutrient. In actuality, that food would provide one-fourth the total Daily Value because 20 g is the Daily Value for saturated fat. The % Daily Value listing carries a footnote stating that the percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Serving Sizes

The serving size is used for reporting a food's nutrient content. In the past, the serving size was up to the discretion of the food manufacturer. Now serving sizes are more uniform and reflect the amounts people actually eat. Future labeling laws may make nutrition information even easier for consumers to understand. For example, a 20 oz. bottle of Coke is currently considered to contain 2 ½ servings. However, since most people drink the entire bottle, one serving would be 250 calories (versus 100 calories for one serving). According to a new FDA task force designed to combat obesity, food manufacturers will be asked to label as a single serving those food packages where the entire content of the package can reasonably be consumed on a single eating occasion. If companies do not comply, they could face fines and other penalties.

FDA allows the following common household measures: the cup, tablespoon, teaspoon, piece, slice, fraction (such as "1/4 pizza"), and common household containers used to package food products (such as a jar or tray). Ounces may be used only if a common household unit is not applicable and an appropriate visual unit is given--for example, 1 oz (28g/about 1/2 pickle).

Grams (g) and milliliters (mL) are the metric units that are used in serving size statements.

Claims for Nutrient Content

The regulations also indicate what terms can be used to describe the level of a nutrient in a food and how they can be used. These are the core terms:

Other terms for low include "little," "few," "low source of," and "contains a small amount of."

The term "light" can also be used to describe properties such as texture and color, as long as the label explains the intent--for example, "light brown sugar" and "light and fluffy."

Baby Foods

FDA is not allowing broad use of nutrient claims on infant and toddler foods. However, the agency may propose claims specifically for these foods at a later date. The terms "unsweetened" and "unsalted" are allowed on these foods, because they relate to taste and not nutrient content

Health Claims

Claims for 10 relationships between a nutrient or a food and the risk of a disease or health-related condition are currently allowed. They can be made in several ways: through third-party references (such as the National Cancer Institute), statements, symbols (such as a heart), and vignettes or descriptions. The claim must meet the requirements for authorized health claims--for example, they cannot state the degree of risk reduction and can only use "may" or "might" in discussing the nutrient or food-disease relationship. In addition, they must state that other factors play a role in that disease.

The claims also must be written so that consumers can understand the relationship between the nutrient and the disease and the importance of that nutrient in the daily diet.

An example of an appropriate claim is: "While many factors affect heart disease, diets low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of this disease."

The allowed nutrient-disease relationship claims and rules for their use are:

Restaurant Foods

Nutrition information is now required for some restaurant foods. FDA requires nutrition information for foods in which health or nutrient-content claims are made on restaurant menus, signs or placards. Restaurants have to provide a "reasonable basis" for making claims, although they are given some flexibility in this. For example, they could rely on recipes endorsed by medical or dietary groups. The FDA is also considering requiring restaurants; especially chain restaurants with standardized portions and recipes, to more clearly label how many calories and fat are in each serving. This is one of the many efforts to help combat the growing problem of obesity in America.

Much of this information was taken from the web site www.fda.gov

For More Information

General Inquiries: Call toll-free 1-888-INFO-FDA (1-888-463-6332).
Food Safety Hotline: 1-800-332-4010
FDA's food label information:http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/default.htm


Food Safety Education and Communication Office
1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Room 1180
Washington, DC 2025

Meat and Poultry Hotline: 1-800-535-4555.

For more information:

Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic, where you can:

Last Reviewed: Aug 21, 2006

Adjunct Faculty
University of Cincinnati