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Understanding Nutrition Facts

The Nutrition Facts label is a tool that consumers can use to help make food choices that are best for their individual health. However, it can be a bit confusing, especially when it comes to added sugars in foods until the new FDA-required nutrition facts labels fully go into effect.

Serving Size

On top of the Nutrition Facts label there is the serving size and servings per container. This area is key to the rest of the information that is listed on the Nutrition Facts label. It shows how many servings are in the package along with how big the serving is. These are often given in measurements such as “cups” and “pieces”. The nutrition information listed on the rest of the label, such as calories, sugar and fiber are based upon one serving of that food or beverage. Packaged foods often contain more than one serving. If you eat two servings of the food, then you are doubling the calories and also doubling the amount of the rest of the nutrients listed.

Example:

This Nutrition Facts Label shows:

  • 4 grams (g) of sugar per serving.
  • There are 8 servings per container.
  • Therefore:
    • 4 g sugar x 8 servings = 32 grams total sugar per container.

Percent Daily Value (%DV)

Daily Values were developed by the FDA to help consumers determine the level of various nutrients provided in a standard serving of food in relation to the approximate requirement recommended daily. The percent daily value (%DV) found on the Nutrition Facts label is a tool to help show how much of each nutrient found in one serving of that particular food or beverage can contribute to our total daily diet in reaching recommended daily values.

Rule of Thumb: You can tell a food or beverage is high or low in a particular nutrient by looking at the %DV:

  • 5% or less of the %DV = that product is low or a poor source of in that particular nutrient.
  • 10-19% of the %DV = that product is a good source in that particular nutrient.
  • 20% or more of the %DV = that product is high or an excellent source in that particular nutrient.

Nutrients we want to try and get MORE of (high %DV):

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Dietary fiber

Nutrients we want to try and get LESS of (lower %DV):

  • Sodium
  • Added sugars

The %DV can help you compare foods and make decisions on which may be a better choice.

Sugar

It can be difficult to be able to spot “added sugars” on ingredients lists. Here are some tips to help when looking at a package:

Check total sugars: You can use the Nutrition Facts label on the food or beverage package to see the total amount of sugar in grams (g) in one serving.

  • Sugar does not currently have a percent daily value (%DV); therefore, you can use the amount of grams (g) as your guide.
  • Some packages will display the “new” Nutrition Facts labels; these have added sugars listed under total sugar. However, most of the current Nutrition Facts Label give information on total grams (g) of sugar and this includes naturally occurring and added sugars.

On May 20, 2016, the FDA announced the Nutrition Label Update to best reflect the new scientific information. The last time the Nutrition Facts label was updated was over 20 years ago, so it was time for a revamp. This was supposed to go into effect on July 26, 2018 – July 26, 2019. However, the FDA has extended the deadline for the new Nutrition Facts Labels for packaged foods to officially go into effect by January 2020, and January 2021 for smaller manufactures (those with annual food sales less than $10 million or more). Here is a side-by-side comparison of the original Nutrition Facts label and the new label: Some of the changes we will be seeing with the new Nutrition Facts label: As soon as these new Nutrition Facts Label go into full effect, we will be able to quickly identify the amount (in grams) of added sugars along with the Percent Daily Value (%DV)!

Check the Ingredient List: There are A LOT of names for added sugars. Look for added sugars that are listed on the ingredient list of the package. Some examples include:

  • White sugar, brown sugar, agave syrup, crystalline fructose, evaporated cane juice, Sucanat, turbinado, muscovado, demerara, rapadura, palm sugar, agave syrup, corn syrup, yacon syrup, rice syrup, molasses, maple syrup, honey, sorghum syrup, coconut nectar, xylitol, erythritol, mannitol, sorbitol, glycerol, Swerve, stevia, Lo Han Guo (monk fruit), saccharin, aspartame, sucralose.

Per the FDA, ingredients are listed in descending order by weight on the package – the closer the ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient is in the food. If some form of sugar is one of the first three ingredients listed, that is a good indication that there is a lot of added sugar in that food product.

Compare Products: Using these tools, you can compare certain food or beverage products to help determine how much unhealthful added sugar is in the product per serving and as a whole.