What Is the Purpose of Nutrition Labels?

In a world of online searches resulting in more information than you need, it’s hard to imagine that there was a time when consumers didn’t have easy access to nutritional facts. Nutrition labeling began with the goal of providing accurate, but basic, information. Now it helps people manage their weight and maintain optimal health by offering nutritional details to guide their food choices.

Early Purpose

The Nutrition Facts label you’re familiar with today began in 1913 to fill one purpose: to protect the consumer. At that time, a law was passed requiring food manufacturers to list all of the ingredients on the package. The concept was expanded in the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990, which required food packages to provide nutrient information.

Current Purpose

The purpose of nutrition labeling now is to provide the information you need to make healthy choices about the foods you eat. It’s designed to provide facts for nutrients that impact common health concerns, such as weight control, diabetes and high blood pressure, and to guide those following a special diet. To serve this purpose, the label shows calories, total fats, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, fiber, sugar, proteins and certain vitamins and minerals. The Nutrition Facts label has a distinct advantage over other sources of nutrition information — it’s convenient. It’s right there on the food you’re getting ready to buy, cook or eat.

Serving Size

The serving size is stated right at the top and is one of the most valuable pieces of information on the Nutrition Facts label. Stop to consider how much you actually eat of that food in one serving and how your portions compare to the recommended serving size. You may need to adjust the number of calories and other nutrients according to how much you eat. If you’re struggling to lose weight and discover your portions are consistently larger than the serving size, that may be the first thing you need to change.

Percent Daily Value

The best tool on the Nutrition Facts label is the “percent daily value” because that quickly gives you a sense for whether you’re getting the right amount of nutrients without having to remember how much of each nutrient you need. The only catch is that the percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. An area at the bottom of the label shows the recommended amount of fat, salt, carbohydrates and fiber you need for 2,000- and 2,500-calorie-a-day diets. But the label doesn’t provide information for anyone eating fewer than 2,000 or more than 2,500 calories.

Vitamins and Minerals

The Nutrition Facts label is great for the nutrients it reports, but the Food and Drug Administration does not require information for all the essential vitamins and minerals. The food you’re eating may contain other vitamins and minerals than those reported on the label. As a general guideline, you’ll find information about vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and any that have been added to fortify the product.

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