By Dr. Jessica Sapp, Associate Professor, School of Health Sciences, and Roberta Wilson, Master of Public Health Alumna
With the New Year upon us, many of us are focusing on our health: eating healthy, exercising, reducing stress and practicing other healthy measures. Because our nutrition greatly influences our energy and overall health, it’s important to know what we are eating.
Most packaged food and beverage products require a Nutrition Facts label. In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for overseeing and updating these labels so they comply with the most current scientific research in medicine and nutrition. In 2016, the FDA updated its requirements for the Nutrition Facts label, and some manufacturers have to comply with these changes for 2021.
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What Has Changed with the New Nutrition Facts Label?
The new label is the first major change since the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act was signed into law in 1990. Before this year, there weren’t many changes except in 2006, when trans fat amounts were required to be added to the label.
The new 2021 label includes the following changes:
- Serving size: The font size is larger and in bold letters for both the serving size and servings per container. Serving sizes have also been updated to reflect amounts that people typically eat and drink today.
- Calories: The number of calories in the product is also in larger and bolder fonts.
- Nutrients: The new label has removed the number of calories from fat as well as Vitamin A and C. Added sugars, Vitamin D and potassium have been added to the nutrients section of the label.
- Percent Daily Value (%DV): The percent daily values have been updated based on current science, so these values have been updated on the Nutrition Facts label. Also, the footnote at the bottom of the label has been updated to better explain %DV.
How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label
Using the new Nutrition Facts label can be very helpful in maintaining good health because you will know the amount of calories in various foods. In addition, you can avoid high sugary foods by selecting foods with healthier nutrients. Regardless of your needs, understanding the label will help you achieve your health goals.
Serving size: The first items at the top of a Nutrition Facts label are the number of servings per container and the serving size. Serving size typically appears as cup, tablespoon, piece, bottle, can or container followed by the amount in grams (in parenthesis).
Calories: A calorie is a unit of energy that can be consumed from foods and beverages. Calories come from carbohydrates, fats and protein, which are listed separately on the nutrition label.
Nutrients: The nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts label are total fat, saturated fat,trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, total sugars, added sugars, protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. The FDA requires only a few nutrients be included on the Nutrition Facts label. However, manufacturers may voluntarily include additional nutrients such as monosaturated or polyunsaturated fat.
Percent Daily Value: The %DV informs the user of the amount of nutrients per serving and what percentage of the total recommended daily calorie intake it represents. Essentially, %DV helps determine if a food product is low or high in a certain nutrient (that is, how much to consume or not exceed). The %DV is considered low if it is 5% or less; 20% or more is considered high.
For your daily calorie intake, aim for a balanced mix of quality and quantity. For example, you should select foods that are lean proteins or unsaturated fats for your calories, which are healthier options for your %DV.
Always compare labels and choose food products that best fit your daily dietary needs and goals. To learn more, read the FDA’s guide, How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.
Nutrition Recommendations for a Healthy Lifestyle
Consuming sufficient calories is vital for sustaining bodily functions and health. Consuming a balanced diet (that is, calorie intake) and being physically active (calorie expenditure) are essential for optimal health and for maintaining a healthy body weight.
The FDA’s dietary recommendations and Nutrition Facts label are based on a daily 2,000-calorie intake, which is only a general nutritional guide for adults. Several factors must be considered in determining an individual’s specific daily calorie needs: age, height, weight, sex, physical activity level and health status. Another factor to consider is whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
As a general nutritional guide, you should favor foods that are higher in calcium, vitamin D, iron, potassium, and dietary fiber and consume fewer products containing sodium, added sugars, and saturated fat. Labeling terms such as “no added sugars” or “fat-free” do not necessarily translate to healthy products. Some items marketed with these phrases may contain more calories than their regular counterparts.
How Many Calories Do You Need?
Keeping a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle is better than fad diets, which are widely advertised on TV at this time of year to coincide with New Year’s resolutions to slim down. There are many free online calculators that can get you started in determining your calorie needs, such as the Mayo Clinic’s calorie calculator. This tool is a great starting point for how many calories you need in the day to maintain your current weight. If you are looking to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume.
Several factors play a role in your health and well-being, including lifestyle choices, genetics, and nutrition. To stay informed and to get more wellness tips, follow the AMU & APU Public Health Facebook page. Make your good health a priority this year!
About the Authors
Dr. Jessica Sapp is an associate professor in the School of Health Sciences and co-author of Your Healthcare Job Hunt: How Your Digital Presence Can Make or Break Your Career. She has over 15 years of experience in public health, working in various environments including government, hospitals, health insurance, community, international, corporate and academia. Jessica earned her D.P.H. in health policy and management at Georgia Southern University and a M.P.H. in health promotion, education and behavior at the University of South Carolina. She also has a B.S. in health science education from the University of Florida.
Roberta Wilson is a Master of Public Health alumna at AMU. She holds a B.S. in Health Sciences – Public Health with an associate degree in Medical Assisting from Brigham Young University – Idaho. She has more than nine years of experience in the clinical and public health settings, at various capacities. She currently volunteers at AMU, helping to compile and distribute public health information through social media and at her county’s public health laboratory in the COVID-19 response. Roberta has a passion for health promotion and community service.