Food Labels 3: Nutritional Facts Panel (Sort of Science Sunday)

Nutrition Facts Panel

I have been side tracked from my food labeling posts. The other parts are here:

1: Introduction

2: Organic

This post is about the Nutritional Facts Panel which probably the part that you know the best. It certainly is the part I look at first followed by the ingredient list. I love to know what is in food and also the amount of nutrients I expect to get from a serving.

Talking of serving sizes, have you ever felt how dumb they are? Three olives count as one serving*, 7 chips/crisps are one serving… I could go on. Well this, and the rest of the label, is regulated by the FDA, who have determined was is a typical serving for most foods. The units used for serving sizes should also be given as familiar household measurement, such as: cookies – pieces; beverages in fluid ounces; pasta as cups. The weight or volume in metric units should be given in parenthesis. The serving size is then the reference amount for the rest of the label. This must include:

  • Calories & Calories from Fat,
  • Total Fat & Saturated Fat & Trans Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total Carbohydrates & Dietary Fiber & Sugars
  • Protein
  • Vitamins A and C and iron and calcium

All, except Calories, protein, vitamins and minerals, must be given both as amount as %Daily Value based on a 2000 Calorie diet. The percent daily value is calculated from:

% Daily Value = 100 x (Amount of Nutrient per serving/Daily value of Nutrient)


At this point I have to interrupt and say when I moved the the US I was totally put off by everything being calculated by serving size and daily value. In Britain I was used to being given the amount per 100 g and then doing the calculation myself. I am used to it now but I still have to do some sort of calculation because I usually eat more than one serving. In addition, using a 2000 Calorie diet as a reference point is useless. I am sure that I eat more than 2000 Calories/day. When we measured our dietary intakes as undergrads (over 20 years ago now) I was eating 2500 Calorie/day. I am sure to be eating something like that now and I am doing a lot less expenditure of energy.

Back to topic

Protein is listed just as amount as there is not a recommended daily value for protein. Vitamins and minerals are just listed as % Daily Value. This can be irritating while being helpful. The Code of Federal Registers gives the following as RDIs:

Vitamin A, 5,000 International Units

Vitamin C, 60 milligrams

Calcium, 1,000 milligrams

Iron, 18 milligrams

If there is little or no amount of a nutrient, it can be omitted from the facts panel and the statement:

Not a significant source of _ (listing the vitamins or minerals omitted)”

This is also true for the major nutrients but the amounts at which zero is considered are, obviously higher. Food is consider fat-free is there is less than 0.5 g fat per serving.

There are voluntary nutrients that can be added to the label but do not have to be there. For example, potassium can be listed with sodium and polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat and monounsaturated fats can listed under Total Fats. More vitamins and minerals can be given at the end too.

Nothing else can be given in the Nutritional Panel, which is why food companies do not list caffeine there as asked by a Anne Marie in the comments of the intro post.

Nutritional Facts Panel

Up next: Nutrition and Health Claims

*Apparently, three olives is what the Italians think is polite to take when you are handed a dish of olives before dinner. I don’t know why only 7 chips are a serving.


2 thoughts on “Food Labels 3: Nutritional Facts Panel (Sort of Science Sunday)

  1. Interesting. I think most people ignore what an actual serving size is and just consume. I have to admit I am an inconsistent label reader. I’ll check snack food more than other products, but not every time. And, I tend to look at salt content first, as I just don’t like things very salty.

  2. Pingback: Food Friday: Food Labeling Videos « Lab Cat

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