Federal law requires that food manufacturers place labels on most foods. Thefood label must provide complete, useful and accurate nutrition information.The requirement that packaged food be labeled has the effect of raising the quality of foods sold; it also gives the consumer a basis for making healthy food choices. Food labels appear in a consistent format to facilitate direct comparisons of the nutritional contents of various foods. These labels alwaysappear on a package under the title Nutrition Facts.
These food labels supply consumers with at least the following information (in an easy-to-read format) about almost every food sold in a supermarket:
- amounts per serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and other nutrients
- nutrient reference values, expressed as % Daily Values
- designations of a food's nutrient content--such as "light," "low-fat,"and "high-fiber"--using a well-defined terminology
- claims about the relationship between a nutrient or food and a disease or health-related condition
- standardized serving sizes to facilitate nutritional comparisonswith similar products
- total percentages of juice in juice drinks
Under the Nutrition Facts heading of the food label, manufacturers are required to provide information on certain nutrients. The mandatory and voluntary (in parentheses) components and the order in which they must appear are as follows:
- total calories
- calories from fat
- (calories fromsaturated fat)
- total fat
- saturated fat
- (polyunsaturated fat)
- (monounsaturated fat)
- total carbohydrate
- dietary fiber
- (soluble fiber)
- (insoluble fiber)
- (sugar alcohol)
- (other carbohydrate)
- vitamin A
- (percent of vitamin A present as beta-carotene)
- vitamin C
- (other essential vitamins and minerals)
Near the top of the label are the Serving Size and Amounts per Serving indications. Serving size is based on an average portion size. To make comparison between products easier, similar food products have similar serving sizes. Calories and Calories from Fat are listed under Amounts per Serving. Besides providing valuable data about fat intake, this label also lists amounts of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein on a per serving basis.
To understand the significance of these labels to maintaining good health, keep in mind that nutrition experts suggest that you observe the following guidelines when choosing your diet:
- Restrict your intake of calories fromfat to 30 percent or less of your total daily intake of calories, keeping inmind that fats supply more than twice as many calories (nine per gram) as protein or carbohydrates.
- Restrict your intake of saturated fats to lessthan 10 percent of your total calorie consumption. Saturated fats, which come chiefly from animal products, stimulate cholesterol production in the body.
- Restrict your intake of cholesterol to 300 milligrams or less per day. (Cholesterol is found only in animal products.)
- Restrict your intake of sodium to 2400 milligrams or less per day (about the amount in a teaspoon of salt). Sodium may contribute to high blood pressure, and promote waterretention.
- Consume at least 20 to 30 grams per day of dietary fiber.Whole grains are a good source of fiber.
- Restrict your intake of sugary foods to a moderate level. Sugar contributes to tooth decay.
- Restrict your intake of protein to about 12 percent of your total daily calories,drawing mostly on nonfat sources of protein.
- Consume most of your calories in the form of complex carbohydrates such as grains and legumes.
Federal regulations require that only two vitamins, Vitamins A and C, and twominerals, calcium and iron, appear on the food label. Recommended daily allowances of these nutrients are as follows:
- Vitamin A: 4000 international units (IU) for women, and 5000 IU for men. Vitamin A promotes good vision;helps form and maintain healthy skin and mucous membranes.
- Vitamin C:60 milligrams per day. Vitamin C promotes healthy gums and teeth; aids in iron absorption; maintains normal connective tissue; and helps wounds heal.
- Calcium: 1200 milligrams for adolescents and young adults; 800 milligrams for persons 25 years of age and older; and 1500 milligrams for women over 50. Calcium builds bone and teeth; maintains bone density and strength; helpsregulate heartbeat muscle contractions; and can help prevent or minimize osteoporosis.
- Iron: 15 milligrams for women up to the age of 50; 10 milligrams for older women; and 10 milligram for men. Iron is essential to the formation of hemoglobin and myoglobin.
Food manufacturers may, however, voluntarily list other vitamins and mineralsin the food. Any added vitamins or minerals must also be listed on the nutrition label.
The Percent Daily Value for vitamins and minerals provides a general idea ofhow much of a vitamin or mineral a single serving contributes to the total daily diet. The Percent Daily Value evaluates the food's nutritional content based on a 2,000-calorie diet. You can use the percent daily value to quickly compare foods and see how the amount of a nutrient in a serving of food fits into a 2,000 calorie diet.
Near the bottom of the label, there may be a list of six nutrients and the recommended daily intakes. If present, the list will include values for 2000- and 2500-calorie daily intakes. The amounts listed for the first four nutrients, i.e., total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, are maximum values. The amounts of total carbohydrate and dietary fiber are minimum amounts. This list is exactly the same on all food labels that carry it.
The terms most commonly used in nutritional labeling carry precise definitions; these terms include low calorie (40 calories or less per serving); reducedcalorie (at least 25% fewer calories per serving when compared with a similar food; light or lite (one-third fewer calories or 50% less fat per serving);sugar free (less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving); reduced sugar (at least 25% less sugar per serving when compared with a similar food); fat free (less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving); 100% fat free (meets requirements forfat free); low fat (3 grams or less per serving); reduced fat (at least 25% less fat when compared with a similar food); cholesterol free (less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving); low cholesterol (20 milligrams or less of cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated of fat per serving); sodium free (less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving); salt free (meets the requirements for sodiumfree).
Finally, the food label may contain a message that describes the relationshipbetween a food or food component, such as fat, calcium or fiber, and a disease or health-related condition. This message is known as a health claim. Federal law, backed by extensive scientific evidence, recognizes health claims for seven diet and health relationships: calcium and osteoporosis; fiber containing grain products, fruits, vegetables and cancer; fruits, vegetables and cancer; fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber and coronaryheart disease; fat and cancer; saturated fat and cholesterol and coronary heart disease; and sodium and hypertension.
Food manufacturers must list ingredients in descending order by weight. The ingredient list must include FDA-approved color additives; sources of proteinhydrolysates; and caseinate as a milk derivative in foods that claim to be nondairy.
Many foods are exempt from the requirement of food labeling. These include restaurant foods; hospital cafeteria foods; airline foods; food from service vendors; ready-to-eat foods prepared primarily on site; bulk food that is not resold; food produced by small businesses; medical foods; plain coffee and tea; flavor extracts; food colors; spices; and any foods that contain no significant nutrients.