The Nutrition Label Know-How

created by Derreck Peterson, BariatricA

Nutrition Label Basics

1) What is included
2) What may not be listed?
3) What the number mean (percentages and grams)

What is a food label (basic definition)

Required by law on virtually all packaged foods (I say foods because the supplement industry does not have to hold to these standards. They have their own group that watches over them to a point and has five requirements:
1) statement of identity
2) the net contents (by weight, volume or measure)
3) the name and address of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor
4) a list of ingredients
5) nutritional information (which may not be a complete list)

Sample Food Label

Nutritional Labeling and Education Act (NLEA)

It is an amendment of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The NLEA major changes to the content and the scope of nutrition label and to other elements of food labels. Final
regulations were published in 1993 and went into effect in 1994.

This was the last time that any type of major changes have been made to it. It was at this point
that all food products meeting a specific criteria had to have food labels. By 1997, 96.5% of food products had labeling.

Food Label Information Breakdown

1) Statement of Identity
mandate that commercial food products prominently display common or usual name on the product to identity the food with appropriate descriptive term. Basically the products has to be label what it is supposed to be, like tomato sauce is tomato sauce. Usually found
underneath the name of the product.

2) Net Contents by Weight, Volume or Measure
This is the weight of the actual product and not the packaging. It is what tell you exactly
how much products which is what tells you the number of servings and their individual
serving sizes.

3) Name and Address of Manufacturer, Distributor, or Packer
On the back of the packaging usually.
This is the amount of the product that is in the container without the packaging. This used to go with the serving size listed on the nutrition facts pane

4) Nutrition Facts Pane
This is where the macronutrients and some micronutrients are shown. Not all micronutrients need to be listed though.
In 2004 a survey showed that 83% of shoppers check the Nutrition Facts pane when
buying a product for the first time.
91% will make a purchasing decision based on nutrition information.
Although fat content is most frequently sought people also look for food that are “low
calorie”, “whole grain” and “low salt/sodium”.
Daily Values are also listed after these.

These are a single set of nutrient intake standards
developed by the Food and Drug Administration to represent the needs of the “typical
consumer”. Normally these are based on 1800 to 2000 calorie food diets.
The other thing is sometimes nutrition facts pane doesn’t include all of the nutrients. They are not required to have mono or poly unsaturated fats though many do if they have them in them. Now if there added sugars these are required to be added under the Total Carbohydrates section.

This nutrition label does not include added sugars, but if you say
take a look at coffee creamers. They tend to have an added sugar section. Sugar is added
to enhance the taste of things.

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Sample Nutrition Facts

Those five things are in bold, besides the calories, important because they are things that can affect diseases like cholesterol or sodium and the other three are the macronutrients: Fat, Carbohydrates, and Protein.

Ingredients List
This is the final component to a Food Label. This is where the exact ingredients of the food are listed.

Ingredients are list under their common or usual names. Yes there are some ingredients that are under their scientific name because in fact they to do not have a basic name like others do.

These are in descending order by weight: ie, first ingredient list is the primary ingredient.

Example of Ingredient Lists

Cereal A Ingredients:
Milled corn, sugar, salt, malt flavoring, high fructose corn syrup

Cereal B Ingredients:
Sugar, yellow corn flour, rice flour, wheat flour, whole oat flour, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (Contains one or more of the following oils: canola, soybean, cottonseed), salt cocoa, artificial flavoring, corn syrup.

So the main ingredient (prominent by weight) in cereal A is milled corn, but the main ingredient in cereal B is sugar. While the nutrition labels say they have the same about of carbohydrates, the amount of sugar may or may not be different. Cereal B is prominently sugar, so its like eating table sugar from the packaging.

When ingredients like aspartame, an artificial sweetener, are present it also has to display a warning label about them.

Preservatives and other additives in foods must be listed, along with an explanation of their function.

Accurate and complete ingredient information is vital for people with food allergies who must avoid certain foods components.

January 2006 they updated the NLEA for this specific reason. The food that included any of the eight major food allergies (egg, wheat, peanut, milk, tree nuts, soy, fish and crustaceans) have been required to include that they have been manufactured with these or if they are cross contaminated in production, meaning they were produced on machines that may have came in contact with these allergies.

One thing that I will say now is watch out for ingredients that you can not pronounce. These are usually the preservatives or additives and some of those have been shown to also be in household cleaners.

Qualified Health Claims on Food Products
Health Claims are any statement that associates a food or a substance in a food with a disease or health-related condition.

Before the NLEA anything claiming these things were considered a drug and not a food. An example of claim that has been passed is with calcium and the claim it helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis. When these claims are submitted they have to substantial backing to prove or at least show that this food can help with lessening a disease or health condition.

New heath claims can be proposed at any time, but have to go through the FDA for approval.

These health claims can be found at

These claims go through a group called Consumer health Information for Better Nutrition. This group is to help facilitate the flow of information about sound dietary choices to consumers.

Structure/Function Claims
These are not like Qualified Health Claims. These are statements that may claim a benefit
related to a nutrient deficiency disease (eg. vitamin C prevents scurvy). Yes, calcium can fall under either category but it was introduced in the Health Claims. Or, they describe the role of a nutrient or dietary ingredient intended to affect a structure or function in humans (eg, calcium helps build strong bones). See how the difference in wording is between structure/function claim compared to a Health Claim.

Using Labels to Make Healthful Food Choices
What’s the best way to start using the information on food labels to make food choices?

Let’s look at some questions you should be asking:

1)What are you needing more in your diet?

2)How do they compare in terms of sugar content?

3)What about vitamins and other minerals?

More than one product?

Which is the best choice nutritionally? Are you sure?

Sometimes the answer is not clear-cut. Product A is higher in sodium, whereas Product B has more saturated and trans fat. It would be important to know about the rest of your dietary intake before making a decision.

To make the best choice, you should know which substances are most important in terms of your own health risks. The label is there to help you make these types of food decisions.

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