Guest blogger: Emily Vong, RD
The label on packaged food presents a lot of useful information, not only on the Nutrition Facts panel, typically found on the back of a package, but there are also important details on the front and sides of the package as well. What does it mean when the label says “No Added Sugar” or “Good Source of Fiber”? How about when cherries or one of your other favorite fruits are labeled as “Gluten Free”? Does this mean “Gluten Free” cherries are more nutritious than cherries that don’t come with any label at all? What is the importance of number of Calories and percent Daily Value? This three-part blog series will guide you through understanding all of this information and more to help you make healthful, educated food choices.
Up-Front Labeling and Marketing
In order to promote sales of their product, food manufacturers like to highlight attributes of their product that will appeal to health-conscious shoppers by making nutrition claims and comparisons directly on the food label so it can easily be seen on the shelves of the store.
Nutrition Comparisons-Front and Side Labels
What exactly does it mean for a food to be a “Good source of fiber” or “Reduced Sodium”? Based on FDA regulations, nutrient claims like these must follow specific guidelines.
Claim: “Good Source of ___”
Requirement: 1 serving contains at least 10% of Daily Value (%DV)
Example: Good Source of Fiber (contains 3 grams per serving)
Claim: “Excellent Source of ___”
Requirement: 1 serving contains at least 20% DV
Example: Excellent Source of Calcium (contains 30% DV per serving)
Claim: “Reduced ___”
Requirement: At least 25% less of the nutrient than the regular product
Example: Reduced Fat (contains 30% less fat than original)
Requirement: One-third fewer calories, or half the fat, of regular product
Example: Light [in calories] (contains 40% fewer calories than original)
Beware of Buzz-Words
As another form of nutrition-focused branding, food manufacturers often use words on their packages that may give the food a “health halo.” This is the perception that a food is healthy, or healthier than it actually is, which may contribute to a person consuming a larger portion than she or he would otherwise. Though these descriptions and claims may be true, the terms used may have misleading definitions or may not mean much at all in terms of nutritional quality. Some of the most common buzzwords are:
To learn more about the Nutrition Facts panel, read on to Part 2 of Food Labels 101.