Nutrition Facts labels and other labeling on food packages can provide much important information when choosing age-defying foods, but they can also be confusing. So we try to sort it out for you.
Nutrition Facts Labels
Nutrition Facts labels are required for most foods (except meat and poultry) and have standardized categories, which we explain here.
Serving Size and Servings Per Container: If the serving size is 1 cup and there are 2 servings per container, then the package contains 2 cups. If you eat two servings rather than one, you must remember to double the values of the calories, nutrients, and % daily value figures below this line on the label.
Calories and Calories from Fat: these values are per serving.
% Daily Value: These percentages are based on the Daily Value recommendations for important nutrients, based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. You may eat fewer or more than 2,000 calories daily, but you can still use this figure as a reference point. The % DV helps you determine if a serving of a food is low or high in a specific nutrient. Each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient. A value of 5% or less is considered low; 20% or more is considered high.
Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Sodium, and Cholesterol: These substances are ones you want to limit because they are associated with accelerated aging and disease. Therefore, preferred foods contain a % DV of 5% or less.
Sugars: No % DV has been established for sugars. The sugars listed on Nutrition Facts labels include naturally occurring sugars (e.g., those in fruit and milk) and added sugars. Added sugars will appear on the ingredient portion of the label and may be listed as sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, fruit juice concentrate, and maple syrup.
Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron: These nutrients are among those you want to see in the high range: % DV of 20% or more.
Protein: Manufacturers must give a % DV only if the food claims to be high in protein or if the food is meant for infants and children younger than 4 years old.
“Percent Daily Values” Footnote: The following statement must appear on all Nutrition Facts labels. “Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” The remaining information does not need to appear if the package is too small. When the information does appear, it is the same on all products, because it is general dietary advice for all Americans.
Light, Low, Free, Lean: What’s It All Mean?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established definitions and guidelines for terms that can appear on food packaging. Here’s a sample.
Free: the product contains no amount of, or only a trivial or “physiologically inconsequential” amount of one or more of these substances: fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugars, and calories.
Low fat: the product contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving.
Low saturated fat: 1 g or less per serving.
Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving.
Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving.
Low cholesterol: 20 mg or less and 2 g or less of saturated fat per serving.
Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
Lean and extra lean: when describing meat, poultry, seafood, and game, “lean” means it contains less than 10 g of fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving and per 100 g. “Extra lean” means it contains less than 5 g fat, less than 2 g saturated fat, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per serving and per 100 g.
High: means the food contains 20% or more of the Daily Value for a specific nutrient.
Good Source: means that one serving of the product contains 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value for a specific nutrient.
Light: can mean one of three things: (1) the food contains one-third fewer calories or half the fat of the reference food. If the food provides 50% or more of its calories from fat, the reduction must be 50% of the fat. (2) The sodium content of a low-calorie, low-fat food has been reduced by 50%. (3) The term describes color, texture, or another property of the food, but the label must explain the term, such as “light brown sugar.”
Fresh: the FDA defines this term when it is used for foods that are raw or unprocessed. Thus “fresh” can be used only on raw foods, ones that have never been frozen or heated, and contain no preservatives. “Fresh frozen,” “frozen fresh,” and “freshly frozen” can be used for foods that were rapidly frozen while still fresh.