Food labels appear on virtually every food item. The only foods that do not need to carry nutrition labels are plain coffee, tea, and spices. Foods produced by small companies and those prepared and sold in the same establishment are also exempt. However, many of these producers choose to use nutrition labels.
The first thing that you want to look at when reading a nutrition label is the serving size. The US Food and Drug Administration (USDA) has established specific serving sizes on some foods. For instance, a beverage serving size is 8 fluid ounces and an ice cream serving size is ½ cup. This makes it easy to comparison shop for these items. However, some food serving sizes are not regulated. This is why it is so important to read the serving size first. It is easy to assume that some food packages only hold one serving. Little bags of potato chips are one such food. Some of those bags actually contain what the manufacturer considers as 2 ½ servings. If you just look at calories and see 150 calories, you may think that the entire bag contains 150 calories, when in fact it contains 375 calories because it contains 2 ½ servings.
Labels present nutrition information in two ways, quantities (such as grams or milligrams) and percentages of daily values (DV). The amount of fat a person should consume in a day is not a set amount. Instead, recommendations are based on a percentage of calories. The “% DV” column provides a ballpark figure of how individual foods contribute to the overall diet. You can see that every food label bases the % DV on a 2000-calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs, but these figures still provide a way for you to compare different food items. For example, if one type of food contains 25% of the DV for fat and another provides 30%, it’s probably wiser to choose the one containing 25%.
You still need to watch portion sizes when choosing foods that are described as “nonfat” or “sugar free”. Many low-fat foods are still high in calories. In fact, manufacturers may add even more sugar to food in an attempt to make up for the lost taste from fat removal. Sugar-free foods still contain calories from other carbohydrates, fat, and protein.
Below is a small quiz to see how much you know about food labels, have fun!
1. How many calories can a serving of food contain to state “low calorie” on the label?
a. 20 calories
b. 40 calories
c. 60 calories
2. How much fat can a serving of food contain to state “low fat” on the label?
a. 1 gram (g)
b. 2 grams
c. 3 grams
3. How much fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol can 3.5 ounces of meat, poultry, game meat, and seafood contain to state “extra lean” on the label?
a. 5 g total fat, 2 g saturated fat, and 95 milligrams (mg) cholesterol
b. 7 g fat, 4 g saturated fat, and 200 mg cholesterol
c. 9 g fat, 6 g of saturated fat, and 295 mg of cholesterol
4. How much of a nutrient must a food contain to state “excellent source of…”, “high in…”, or “rich in…” on the label?
a. 15% or more of the Daily Value (DV)/serving
b. 20% or more of the DV/serving
c. 25% or more of the DV/serving
5. How must a “light” or “lite” food compare to the standard product to carry that label?
a. One third fewer calories or less than 50% of the fat content
b. One half the calories or less than 75% of the fat content
c. Three fourths of the calories or less than 85% of the fat content
6. How much trans fat can a food product contain/serving to state “trans-fat free” on the label? What is the daily limit for trans fat for adults?
a. 0g; 1g
b. 0.5g; 2g
c. 1g; 3g
7. Which of the following is true of milks that carry the organic seal?
a. The cows must receive only organic food
b. The cows cannot receive antibiotics, even if they are ill
c. The cows still are allowed to receive hormones
8. True or False: Food labeled as fat free can still contain fat.
9. Which of the follow would not appear as a serving size?
a. 2 slices
b. 20 pieces
c. 0.20 ounces
d. ½ package
10. If a product is considered “high” in a particular nutrient, what % Daily Value (DV) must it contain?
11. True or False: The % DV listed on the Nutrition Facts label applies to everyone.
12. In what order do ingredients appear in the ingredient list?
a. Alphabetical order
b. With the most nutritious ingredients listed first
c. With the longest words at the end for appearance purposes
d. With the ingredients provided in the largest quantity appearing first