Nutrition Facts Label

The 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act requires disclosure of nutrient composition information on almost all packaged food and beverage products sold to household consumers. The Nutrition Facts Label, also referred to as the Nutrition Facts Panel, on packaged food and beverage products is intended to help consumers make informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet. The first Nutrition Facts Label regulations were published in 1993 and launched in 1994. More than two decades later, in 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new requirements for the Label to provide recent and accurate nutrition information about foods based on updated scientific data and more recent consumer behavior trends.

Given the delayed compliance date for the new requirements and implementation by manufacturers, some packaged food products may already have the new label, while others may not. Hence, both the old and the new version of the label may be seen on food and beverage products until the effective compliance date (January 2020 for most manufacturers and January 1, 2021 for small manufacturers), when all products in the marketplace are required to bear the new label. 

As more food and beverage products on the market have the new label, the resources listed below may be useful in outreach or communication about how to interpret and use the Nutrition Facts Label in making informed food choices to follow healthy dietary patterns. The resources may also be helpful to stakeholders required to implement the new rule.

 

Toolkit Resources

The items in this toolkit have been assembled to provide you fact-based, scientific resources on this issue for your personal education and when communicating with different audiences.  The American Association for the Advancement of Science offers a Communication Toolkit (Communicating to engage) that provides guidance and tips for being effective in communicating through different channels. You may want to review the AAAS toolkit as you consider using this IFT issue-specific resource in communicating about this issue with your respective networks. 

References

Communicating to engage [Internet]. Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science. © 2018 [Accessed 2018 Feb 21].

Helpful Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to conveying how to interpret and use the label, these helpful frequently asked questions provide factual answers addressing the key changes in the labeling requirements. Be sure to share this information with your extended networks to help accurately educate and assist friends, family, and your  community on how to interpret the nutrition label.  

The nutrition facts label can help with:

  • Recognizing the nutrient content of foods and beverages
  • Comparing the nutritional value of similar foods or beverages

Why are nutrients and food components listed on the Nutrition Fact Label?

To help Americans make informed food and beverage choices that are purchased and consumed, the FDA requires that information about some nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) be listed on the Nutrition Facts Labels of most packaged food and beverage products, except for single ingredient products under FDA jurisdiction and some other exempted foods under FDA regulations. 

Which nutrients are required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Label?

The nutrients, shown below are required by law to be listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.  Other nutrients are not required to be listed but may voluntarily be listed. In addition to continuing to list total fat, saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sodium, protein, calcium, iron, the new label must also list the amount of vitamin D, potassium, and added sugars. Although, vitamins A and C are no longer required on the new label they may be listed voluntarily (Figure 1).

Nutrients 

Current requirements 

New requirements 

Total fat 

 

 

Saturated fat 

 

 

Trans fats               

 

 

Cholesterol 

 

 

Sodium 

 

 

Total carbohydrate 

 

 

Dietary fiber 

 

 

Sugars 

 

✔ (Sugars to be labeled as Total sugars; Added Sugars must be listed under Total sugars) 

Protein 

 

 

Vitamin A 

 

Not required 

Vitamin C 

 

Not required 

Calcium 

 

 

Iron 

 

 

Vitamin D 

Not required 

 

Potassium 

Not required 

 

How to Use the Nutrition Facts Label 

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

Consider the serving size and servings per container. The serving size is the amount of a food or beverage product typically consumed (according to the recent national food intake data) at one time (i.e., at an eating occasion).  Serving sizes are standardized to allow comparison of the nutrient content of similar foods or beverages.  Serving sizes are conveyed in common household measuring units (e.g., cups, ounces, and teaspoons, along with a metric unit (e.g., grams)).  Serving sizes are the basis for determining the number of calories and amount of other nutrients in a labeled serving of a food or beverage.The serving size is required to be displayed in a larger size and bolded font, to draw attention. 

The number of servings per container along with the serving size provide the basis for determining the amount of calories and other nutrients consumed and helps when comparing this information with actual portion size consumed.  For example, if the serving size is one cup for a packaged product that contains two servings and an individual consumes the contents of the entire package, then the amount of calories and other nutrients consumed will be double the amount shown on the label.    

Calories 

Consideration of the number of calories in one serving of a food or beverage product can help monitor and manage the calorie intake, which can be helpful for a variety of health-related conditions.  The calories are required to be displayed in a larger size and bolded font, to draw attention. The calorie guide can be used to identify food and beverage products that are high or low in calories, compare similar food or beverage products, and choose products that are low in calories/serving, in comparison to national dietary recommendations.  The calorie guide below shows the definitions of levels of calories using a 2,000-calorie diet reference. 

Calorie guide: 
40 calories/serving – low in calories 
100 calories/serving – moderate in calories 
400 or more calories/serving – high in calories  
In addition to the number of calories per serving, the amount of some key nutrients and food components contained in a food or beverage product are listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.  

Nutrients to Limit

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends the following daily consumption guidance for saturated fats, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars: 

  • Saturated fats: Less than 10% of calories per day 
  • Trans fat: Limit trans fat as much as possible 
  • Sodium: Less than 2,300 milligrams per day 
  • Added sugars: Less than 10% of calories per day (e.g., 200 calories/day for adults, using a 2,000-calorie diet reference) 

The recommendations are made because these nutrients and food components are of public health concern in the United States, and the specified limits could help individuals get the nutrients they need from nutrient-dense foods and achieve healthy eating patterns within their calorie limits.  

Saturated fat is listed on the label because it is consumed in amounts higher than recommended.   Strong and consistent evidence shows that replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats, is associated with reduced blood levels of total cholesterol and of low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL-cholesterol) and with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease events (heart attacks) and cardiovascular disease-related deaths.

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting trans fat consumption as much as possible because high intake of trans fat has been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, in part, due to its effect (increases) on low-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (LDL - cholesterol).  Due to public health concerns related to trans fat intake, in 2015, the FDA ruled that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs), a source of trans fat, will not be allowed in food formulations, to completely eliminate trans fat from PHOs, in the food supply.  According to the 2015 FDA ruling, PHOs are no longer allowed in most food products after June 18, 2018. However, the FDA has extended the compliance date to January 1, 2020 for some food products produced prior to June 18, 2018, to allow for an orderly transition and distribution in the marketplace.  Further, the FDA has allowed some food products with specific, limited petitioned uses to be distributed in the marketplace until January 1, 2021. Since the ruling, the number of packaged food products containing trans fat has decreased, as manufacturers are reformulating foods without PHOs, however, some food products formulated with PHOs may still be in the marketplace. 

The primary source of trans fat in processed and packaged food products include margarines, snack foods, and prepared desserts, where PHOs are added during food processing.  Trans fat is produced during the hydrogenation process, where oils are partially hydrogenated to convert some unsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids, to make food products containing unsaturated fatty acids solid at room temperature to reduce spoilage and rancidity. Trans fat is also present naturally in small quantities in food and beverage products from some animals, mainly ruminants, such as cows and goats.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends reducing the intake of trans fat to as low as possible by limiting foods that contain PHOs, a source of added trans fat, and consuming fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry, to reduce the intake of naturally-occurring trans fats from these food sources. 
Small quantities of trans fat from natural food sources will continue to remain in food and beverage products, however, trans fat from PHOs will be completely eliminated from the food supply by January 2021.   

Sodium is listed on the label because it is consumed in amounts higher than recommended.  The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg/d.  Scientific evidence shows that higher intake of sodium is associated with an increase in blood pressure.

The 2016 Final Rule that updated the Nutrition Facts Label also requires listing the amount of “Added Sugars” in addition to “Total sugars,” to help monitor and limit the intake of added sugars.  Scientific evidence shows that if sugars contribute more than 10% of the total calories per day, then it could be difficult to meet other nutrient needs while staying within an ideal calorie limit for individuals.  Sugar (monosaccharides and disaccharides), a type of carbohydrate, is listed under Total Carbohydrate on the Nutrition Facts Label. 

Naturally-occurring sugar is the sugar(s) naturally present in food or beverage, e.g., lactose in the milk and fructose in the fruit.

“Added sugars” are the amount of sugar(s) added during food processing. Examples of added sugars include corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, brown sugar, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, raw sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrate (used for sweetening), and molasses. Sugar(s) added in food and beverage products is/are listed in the ingredient list.

Total sugars are the amount of naturally occurring sugar (e.g., lactose and fructose present naturally in milk and fruit, respectively) and added sugar (sugar[s] added during food processing).

Food and beverage products could contain naturally-occurring sugars, added sugars, or both. 

Listed below are few examples:

Food or beverage 

Naturally-occurring sugar(s) 

Added sugar(s)* 

Total sugar(s) 

Regular soda (carbonated drinks) and fruit drinks 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

added sugars 

Sweetened fruit juice 

✔ (fructose) 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

fructose + added sugars 

Snacks and desserts - without dairy or fruit (e.g., cakes, cookies and pies) 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

added sugars 

Snacks and desserts - with dairy and/or fruit (e.g., apple pie and ice cream) 

✔ (lactose from the milk and/or fructose from the fruit) 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

fructose and/or lactose + added sugars 

Sweetened canned fruits 

✔ (fructose) 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

fructose + added sugars 

Unsweetened canned fruits 

✔ (fructose) 

fructose 

100% fruit juice 

✔ (fructose) 

fructose 

Cured meats and poultry 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

added sugars 

Plain milk 

✔ (lactose) 

lactose 

Flavored milk, e.g., chocolate milk 

✔ (lactose) 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

lactose + added sugars 

Plain yogurt 

✔ (lactose) 

lactose 

Fruit yogurt 

✔ (lactose from the milk and fructose from the fruit 

✔ (could contain one or more types of sugar, see below examples of added sugar) 

lactose + fructose + added sugars 

*Added sugars: one or more types of sugars (e.g., corn sweetener, corn syrup, dextrose, brown sugar, fructose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, raw sugar, honey, fruit juice concentrate [used for sweetening], and molasses) may be added to food and beverage products.  

 

 

 

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, in a typical U.S. diet, beverages (e.g., carbonated soft drinks, fruit drinks, sweetened tea and coffee, and energy drinks) account for 47 % of all added sugars consumed followed by snacks and sweets (31 %). Dairy accounts for about 4 % of added sugars in the diet. 

Nutrients to Consume Enough/Get Enough Of

Most Americans do not meet the recommended intake for dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. Adequate intake of these nutrients can help in maintaining good health and may help reduce the risk of some diet-related diseases and health conditions, such as a heart disease and osteoporosis. 

Macronutrients

In addition to fat, the amounts of protein and carbohydrate are required on the label.

Percent Daily Value (% DV)

The % DV is provided to help people understand how much of the nutrient in one serving of a product contributes to the overall daily recommended amount to consume or limit for that nutrient or food component, and how the product fits into a daily dietary pattern. The % DV is based on 100 % of the daily requirement or limit of the nutrient/food component in a 2,000-calorie reference diet.  For example, 5 % DV for saturated fat means that the food or beverage provides 5 % of the total saturated fat consumed by a person for whom a 2,000-calorie diet is suitable. Daily caloric needs may be lower or higher than 2,000 calories.  The amount of calories needed per day will depend on several factors, such as age, gender, physical activity level, and physiological stage. The % DV can be used to limit certain nutrients (saturated fat and sodium) or food components (e.g., added sugars), or increase intake of beneficial nutrients (e.g., dietary fiber, potassium, calcium, and vitamin D), by comparing the nutrient content of various food and beverage products, using the guidelines (found in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans) below: 

  • A nutrient with a % DV of 5 % or less is considered low.  Foods with a DV of 5 % or less for certain nutrients ― sodium and saturated fats, for example – would be considerations for limiting intake. 
  • A nutrient with a % DV of 20 % or more is considered high. Foods with 20 % or more for certain nutrients — dietary fiber and calcium, for example – would be considerations for acceptability for consumption in high amounts.  

The 2016 final rule that updated the Nutrition Facts Label requires listing the % DV for “Added sugars.” 
The % DV for trans fat and protein is not required on the label. 

What are the differences between the old and the new Nutrition Facts Labels?

The new Nutrition Facts Label is based on updated food consumption data, nutrient recommendations, the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and consumer behavior trends. These updates are reflected in the changes required in the label design, nutrient list, and serving size (Figure 1 and 2).

Design

Although the “iconic” look of the label is maintained, the type size for “Calories” and “Serving size” is increased and bolded; and the type size for “Servings per container” is also increased.  These refinements are intended to draw attention to important information to help consumers make informed decisions about food and beverage products that are consumed. 

Nutrients

The changes in the nutrition information are based on updated scientific evidence, nutrient intake recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine (now Health and Medicine Division), and the 2015 - 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendations.  

  • The amount and % DV for vitamin D and potassium is now required on the label, since most Americans do not consume these nutrients in sufficient amounts, placing them at a higher risk for certain chronic diseases. 
  • In addition to the % DV for calcium and iron, the amount of these nutrients is required on the label. 
  • “Sugars” will now be listed as “Total sugars,” to include both naturally-occurring and added sugars. Sugars that are added to food and beverage products during processing are required to be listed on the label in grams and as % DV, to allow the distinction between inherent (e.g., naturally-occurring sugars, such as those in fruits) and added sugar. This information is intended to help limit the intake of added sugars to less than 10 % of total calories consumed per day. 
  • The new rule for dietary fiber limits the type of isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrate(s) that can be considered as dietary fiber, and therefore cannot be included in the calculation of dietary fiber, listed on the label. Originally, the FDA determined that only seven non-digestible carbohydrates (beta-glucan soluble fiber, psyllium husk, cellulose, guar gum, locust bean gum, pectin, and hydroxypropylmethylcellulose), added to foods can be considered as dietary fiber, given their physiologic benefits. 

 

Nutrition Facts Label 

Isolated or Synthetic Non-digestible Carbohydrates Considered as Dietary Fiber 

1993 Nutrition Facts Label  

All non-digestible carbohydrates, including isolated and synthetic were considered as dietary fiber. 

2016 Nutrition Facts Label 

The following seven non-digestible carbohydrates are considered as dietary fiber: 

  • Isolated 
  • cellulose 
  • guar gum 
  • locust bean gum 
  • pectin 
  • beta-glucan 
  • psyllium husk 
  • Synthetic 
  • hydroxypropylmethylcellulose 

June 2018 guidance for industry on isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates 

The FDA intends to propose to add the following eight isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates to the definition of “dietary fiber:” 

  • Isolated 
  • mixed plant cell wall fibers 
  • arabinoxylan 
  • alginate 
  • inulin and inulin-type fructans 
  • high amylose starch (resistant starch 2) 
  • Synthetic 
  • galactooligosaccharides 
  • polydextrose 
  • resistant maltodextrin/dextrin 
  • The footnote on the Nutrition Facts Label has changed to better explain the meaning of % DV. 
  • Vitamins A and C are no longer required on the label but may be listed voluntarily. 
  • Calories from fat are not required on the label because research shows that the type of fat is more important than the amount. 
Serving Size

According to recent food consumption survey data, the amounts of certain food and beverage products consumed in one eating occasion has changed since 1993, leading to updating about 20 % of the serving sizes for certain food and beverage products.  The new Nutrition Facts Label rule requires the updated serving sizes on the label, to provide realistic information and encourage maintenance and/or improvement of dietary practices.  The serving size for some foods has increased, but for others it has decreased. For example, the serving size for soda (carbonated soft drink) has increased to 12 ounces from 8 ounces, and the serving size for yogurt has decreased to 6 ounces from 8 ounces.  

Dual Column

Calorie and nutrient information for “per serving” and “per package” is required on food packages containing multiple servings that could be consumed on one or more eating occasions, for example a pint of ice cream or a 3-ounce bag of chips. Along with bolded calories and servings in a container, the dual column label is intended to help understand the amount of calories and nutrients consumed when consuming the entire package/unit at one time. 

For food and beverage packages containing between one and two servings (e.g., a 20-ounce bottle of soda), information on calories and other nutrients is required on the label as one serving, because the product is typically consumed in one eating occasion. 

 

Old Label                                                         New Label
Nutrition Label

Figure 1: Comparison of the old and new Nutrition Facts Label (Source: FDA). 

When is the new Nutrition Facts Label expected on packaged food and beverage products with more than one ingredient?  

The new Nutrition Facts Label rules were finalized in 2016, however, the effective compliance date by which foods and beverages sold in the marketplace had to bear the new Nutrition Facts Label was delayed.  Food manufacturers with annual food sales of $10 million or more are required to have the new Nutrition Facts Label on food and beverage packages by January 1, 2020. Manufacturers with less than $10 million in annual food sales must comply by January 1, 2021.  Some packaged food and beverage products on the market, however, may already bear the new label. 

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016. The basics of the Nutrition Facts Label.   
 
DHHS/USDA. 2015. 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.    
 
FDA. 2013. A food labeling guide: Guidance for food industry.
 
FDA. 2015. Final determination regarding partially hydrogenated oils (removing trans fat). :   
 
FDA. 2016. Food labeling: revision of the Nutrition and Supplement Facts Labels.
 
FDA. 2018 (June 2018). The declaration of certain isolated or synthetic non-digestible carbohydrates as dietary fiber on Nutrition and Supplement Facts labels: Guidance for industry.   
 
FDA. 2018 (June 2018). Review of the scientific evidence on the physiological effects of certain non-digestible carbohydrates.    
 
FDA. 2018 (updated January 2018). How to understand and use the Nutrition Facts Label.    
 
FDA. 2019 (updated February 2019). Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label.
 
PennState Extension. 2008 (updated August 2008). The Nutrition Facts Panel.    

Acknowledgements: Rob Post reviewed and provided feedback on the “How to interpret and use the Nutrition Facts Label” section 

Below are online resources that can be shared to provide a better understanding of nutrition labeling and communication. 

The items below are provided for sharing on social media about this issue. Items are intended to help the general public better understand the meaning with regard to quality or safety of specific types of nutrition labeling.

Right click on the following images to save for use on your social channels.

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Nutrition Facts - Better Diets

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Nutrition Labels - Labeled Components

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Nutrition Label - Consumed more

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Nutrition Label - Sitdown Restaurants

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Nutrition Label - New Label

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