The Food Label Has the Facts

Today, supermarkets are nutrient data warehouses! Why? Because of the Nutrition Facts label on most foods. The Nutrition Facts label is one of the most complete sources for the nutrient content of foods. And it’s free! There’s no charge for reading the fine print or for comparing the numbers on several different labels.

What’s On the Nutrition Facts Label?

To become better acquainted with the nutrition Facts label, it will be helpful to go through the information that it provides.

Nutrition Facts

Manufacturers are required by law to provide Nutrition Facts information in this easy-to-read format. The information tells you the serving size and the servings per container, as well as the calories, calories from fat, and grams of total fat, saturated fat, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, and selected vitamins and minerals in one serving of the food.

Serving Size – All of the nutrition information on the label is based on one serving, not the whole package or container, unless it is a single-serving container. Serving sizes for categories of food are set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), so serving sizes are consistent among different manufacturers. For example, one serving of most types of dry cereal is ¾ cup. Serving sizes are also listed both in common household amounts (such as 4 crackers or ¾ cup of pasta) as well as metric measures (for example, 28 grams).

Servings per Container – This is the number of servings in the container.

Calories – This is the number of calories in one serving, listed in bold print.

Calories from Fat – Manufacturers get this number from multiplying the number of grams of fat by nine, because there are 9 calories in 1 gram of fat.

Total Fat – The total grams of fat in the serving are listed in bold print.

Saturated Fat – The grams of saturated fat are listed under Total Fat, indented, and not in bold print. Saturated fat is part of the total fat.

Trans Fat – Due to concerns about trans fat and heart disease, the FDA now requires food manufacturers to include the number of grams of trans fats in their products on the Nutrition Facts label.

Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat – These are listed under Total Fat, indented, and not in bold print. These types of fat are listed voluntarily by the manufacturer or if the manufacturer makes a nutrition claim about them.

Cholesterol – The milligrams of cholesterol are listed per serving in bold print.

Sodium – The milligrams of sodium are listed per serving in bold print.

Total Carbohydrate – All of the grams of carbohydrate in one serving are listed in bold print. This is the number that you should review when you count carbohydrate.

Dietary Fiber – The grams of dietary fiber per serving are listed under Total Carbohydrate and indented because fiber is part of the total carbohydrate.

Sugars – The grams of sugars per serving are listed under Total Carbohydrate and indented because sugars are part of the carbohydrate in the food. Many people with diabetes focus only on the sugars. There is no need to do this! When you read the Nutrition Facts, look at the grams of Total Carbohydrate first. You don’t need to single out the grams of sugars. When you count the carbohydrates, you have already counted the sugars.

These sugars can be natural sugars, such as the lactose in milk or the sucrose in fruit, or added sugars, such as corn sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice molasses, agave nectar, and brown sugar. There is no way to tell from the Nutrition Facts label whether the sources are naturally occurring or added. Instead, check the ingredient list for the sources of added sugars. If the added sugars start to tack up, it tells you something about how nutritious – or not – the food is.

Protein – The grams of protein per serving are in bold print.

Vitamins and Minerals – Unlike the other information on the Nutrition Facts label, vitamins and minerals are not resented as a straightforward measured quantity (like, for example, 8 grams o fat). Instead, they are presented as percentages of a Recommended Daily Intake (RDI). There are different RDI levels for different vitamins and minerals. The food label must list the percentage of the RDI for two vitamins – A and C – and two minerals – calcium and iron. Other vitamins and minerals are required to be listed if the manufacturer makes claims about them. They can also be listed voluntarily. For example, if a food is fortified with folic acid, the Nutrition Facts must state the amount of folic acid per serving.

Remember, all of the nutrition information on the Nutrition Facts label is based on one serving. Use the serving sizes on the label to help you lean what reasonable portions are. If you usually eat a larger quantity of that food, perhaps your portions are too large or the portion you may be counting as one serving is actually two or three.

It is important to point out that the food label serving size is not necessarily the same as a serving for carb counting. When it comes to foods that contain carbohydrate, remember the number 15. If you are counting, carbohydrate servings, one carb serving consists of a food that has about 15 grams of carbohydrate.

For example, if you were to look at the Nutrition Facts label for a cold cereal, you may see that it says a 1-cup serving has 49 grams of carbohydrate. When you divide 49 by 15, you see that this serving size is actually three carb servings, with 4 grams of carbohydrate left over. So, a serving of 1 cup of this cereal is a little over three carb servings. If you are counting carbohydrate by grams, check the serving size and grams of total carbohydrate on the label and make sure your serving size is the same or adjust your carb count for the size of the serving you eat.

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