Nutrition & Health / August 16, 2012

Food Label Cheat Sheet (Part 2)

By Charles Platkin, PhD

This is part two of a “cheat sheet.” Keep in mind, this cheat sheet doesn’t tell you everything you should know, but at the very least it will give you some of the key elements. Also, it’s important to note that all these label items are based on a standard serving size called the Reference Amount Customarily Consumed, or RACC, which may or may not be the same as your personal serving size.

Daily Values (DVs)

What It Means:

Recommended Daily Value, based on a 2,000 . (You can determine your calorie needs here.) All of these might not be included, generally they’re not; however, many are required to be on the label by the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Total fat: 65 grams (based on 30 percent of 2,000 calories)
  • Saturated fat: 20 grams (based on 8 percent to 10 percent of 2,000 calories)
  • Cholesterol: 300 milligrams
  • Total carbohydrate: 300 grams (about 60 percent of 2,000 calories)
  • Fiber: 25 grams
  • Sodium: 2,400 milligrams (mg)
  • Potassium: 3,500 mg
  • Protein: 50 grams (about 10 percent of 2,000 calories)
  • Vitamin A: 5,000 International Units (IU)
  • Vitamin C: 60 mg
  • Calcium: 1,000 mg
  • Iron: 18 mg
  • Vitamin D: 400 IU
  • Vitamin E: 30 IU
  • Vitamin K: 80 micrograms
  • Thiamin: 1.5 mg
  • Riboflavin: 1.7 mg
  • Niacin: 20 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 2 mg
  • Folate: 400 micrograms
  • Vitamin B12: 6 micrograms
  • Biotin: 300 micrograms
  • Pantothenic acid: 10 mg
  • Phosphorus: 1,000 mg
  • Iodine: 150 micrograms
  • Magnesium: 400 mg
  • Zinc: 15 mg
  • Selenium: 70 micrograms
  • Copper: 2 mg
  • Manganese: 2 mg
  • Chromium: 120 micrograms
  • Molybdenum: 75 micrograms
  • Chloride: 3,400 mg

Why It Matters:  The food label indicates how much of these nutrients is contained in a single serving of the food relative to what the FDA has determined to be the recommended Daily Value (DV) or the average need of the “typical” consumer — although this can vary depending on an individual’s weight and gender. This is really helpful if you want to get a quick assessment of whether you’re eating too much or too little of a nutrient. For instance, a food that has a Daily Value of 20 percent for fat per serving provides 20 percent of the daily requirement for fat in a single day. You should not exceed 100 percent of the Daily Value. Here is another example: If the recommended Daily Value for sodium is 2,400 milligrams, and a serving of cereal provides 240 milligrams of sodium, the cereal’s DV for sodium would be 10 percent. Also, keep in mind that 5 percent DV or less is low for all nutrients, including those you want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium).

Also, these Daily Values are based on estimates for someone eating a 2,000–calorie diet and, therefore, may not apply to you.

According to the FDA (the governing body regulating food labels): “There are two sets of reference values for reporting nutrients in nutrition labeling: 1) Daily Reference Values (DRVs) and 2) Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs). DRVs are established for adults and children 4 or more years of age, as are RDIs, with the exception of protein. DRVs are provided for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sodium, potassium and protein. RDIs are provided for vitamins and minerals and for protein for children less than 4 years of age and for pregnant and lactating women. In order to limit consumer confusion, however, the label includes a single term (i.e., Daily Value (DV)), to designate both the DRVs and RDIs. Specifically, the label includes the % DV, except that the % DV for protein is not required unless a protein claim is made for the product or if the product is to be used by infants or children under 4 years of age.”

The FDA is currently reviewing nutrient Daily Values (DVs), most of which are still based on recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) established in 1968. A lot has changed since 1968 in terms of nutrition research.

Healthy and related terms (“,” “healthful,” “healthfully,” “healthfulness,” “healthier,” “healthiest,” “healthily” and “healthiness”)

What It Means:

The criteria for using the term “healthy” on a label are as follows:

  • Total fat = 3 grams or less per serving/RACC (Reference Amount Customarily Consumed), or, for meals and main dishes, 3 grams or less per 100 grams and not more than 30 percent of calories from fat.
  • Saturated fat = 1 gram or less per serving/RACC and 15 percent or less calories; for meals and main dishes, 1 gram or less per 100 grams and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.
  • Sodium = 480 milligrams or less per serving/RACC; for meals and main dishes 600 milligrams or less.
  • Cholesterol = 60 milligrams or less per serving/RACC; for meals and main dishes 90 milligrams or less.
  • Beneficial nutrients = Contains at least 10 percent of DV per serving/RACC for vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber except: raw fruits and vegetables; frozen or canned single–ingredient fruits and vegetables; at least 10 percent of the DV for two of the following: vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, protein or fiber for a main dish, or of three for a meal.

Why It Matters:  When you see the term “healthy” on the label you can have a certain level of confidence that the food meets these requirements. One interesting note: Even if the word “healthy” appears only in the name of the product (such as Healthy Choice), it must meet these requirements.

A “Good Source” or “Excellent Source”

What It Means:

“Good Source”: One serving contains or provides 10 percent to 19 percent of the DV per RACC for the indicated nutrient. The term may be also used on meals or main dishes to indicate that the product contains a food that meets the definition.

Example: Good source of fiber: Contains 10 percent to 19 percent of the DV for fiber (2.5-4.75 grams per serving).

“High,” “Rich In” or “Excellent Source Of”: Contains 20 percent or more of the DV per RACC for the indicated nutrient. May also be used on meals or main dishes to indicate that the product contains a food that meets the definition.

Example: High source of fiber: Contains 20 percent or more of the DV for fiber (at least 5 grams per serving).

Why It Matters:  This is especially important for some nutrients and vitamins, such as fiber, vitamin C, potassium and protein. When you see these terms on the package you can have a certain level of confidence that the product meets these requirements.

“Lean” or “Extra Lean”

What It Means:

Lean: This claim may be used on seafood or game meat products that contain less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams or less saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per RACC and for meals and main dishes that meet these criteria per 100 grams or per labeled serving. It can also be used on mixed dishes not measurable with a cup that contain less than 8 grams total fat, 3.5 grams or less saturated fat and less than 80 milligrams cholesterol per RACC.

Extra Lean: May be used on seafood or game meat products that contain less than 5 grams total fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat and less than 95 milligrams cholesterol per RACC, and on meals or main dishes that meet these criteria per 100 grams or per labeled serving.

Why It Matters:  Seeing this claim on meats or frozen foods allows you to be confident that the food meets the labeled criteria. One interesting note: Even if the word “lean” appears only in the name of the product (such as Lean Cuisine), it must meet these requirements.


Tags:  calorie diet Food Label health Nutrient




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