Understanding Nutritional Food Labels
Each day we come in contact with tens if not hundreds of nutrition labels, but what is the purpose of these labels? Why are they required and mandated and what makes them so important?
Nutrition labels can be a great start for managing a healthy lifestyle, but when you’re reading a nutrition label are you entirely understanding the information on it? Knowing how to read food labels is critically important if you have health conditions, need to follow a special diet or if you’re just interested in using them as a tool to have a healthy, balanced diet.
This article will provide information regarding recent changes on nutrition labels, the benefits of partnering with an accredited, reputable food testing label, and international nutrition label testing requirements. Additionally, nutritional labels will be broken down part by part to talk about the US requirements and standards along with how Element provides nutritional label analysis.
US Nutrition Label Requirements
The FDA gives instructions with clear guidelines on what must be included on food and beverage products.
Serving sizes and servings per container are arguably the most important part of nutrition labels since everything starts with a specific serving size. It took until 1990 and the passing of the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act for serving sizes to be more standardized. Household units are used to describe serving sizes, but sometimes the amount commonly consumed per eating occasion is described as the serving size.
Another critically important part of nutrition labels are calories, or the unit measuring the energy in food. Calories can be displayed in two ways: if the serving has 50 calories or less, the number must be shown in increments of five. For servings with over 50 calories, the number must be shown in increments of 10.
Fats: Total, Saturated and Trans
Total fat just states the total grams of fat per serving including all lipid fatty acids shown as triglycerides. Saturated fat is the sum of all fatty acids containing no double bonds, which makes it under the same umbrella as total fat. However, because saturated fats are considered bad - they raise your LDL cholesterol levels - they are separately listed. Trans fat is the worst of the bad fats, which is why in 2006 FDA required it to be listed separately on nutrition labels.
Cholesterol and Sodium
Cholesterol and sodium are also required on the label. Cholesterol is similar to fat, as in healthy amounts are important for cell building, but too much can be bad. Sodium, while an essential mineral, when ingested in high quantities can lead to serious health problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and other health issues.
Carbohydrates and Sugar
Total carbohydrates are the sum of three nutrients in food: dietary fiber, sugars and starches. Fiber is the only carbohydrate your body can’t digest, which in turn means it supports overall digestive health. Sugars are found in many "healthy" foods. Added sugars are now listed below total sugars with the updates to the FDA’s nutritional facts label, which we will touch more on later.
Protein is another important part of the nutrition label. Sometimes if a percent Daily Reference Value (DRV) of the protein is included on the label, the protein quality factor must be determined. However, due to how costly and difficult it is to determine quality factors, many labels do not include DRV.
Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamins and minerals constantly work to maintain your body. On nutrition labels, you will frequently find listings for Vitamin D, Potassium, Calcium and Iron. Those will have exact amounts along with their daily value percentage. With the new updates, Vitamins A and C are no longer required to be listed, but can still be included by the manufacturer of the product.
Recent FDA Changes for Nutrition Labels
In 2021, FDA realized consumers’ needs in regards to food and nutrition were changing. Times were changing and with additional research and information, fat intake, along with many other things, was no longer the most important. The existing nutrition label was more than 20 years old and due for a change.
Serving sizes are more prominent with bolder, bigger typeface, which allows consumers to more easily read them in addition to other areas on the label. In addition, serving sizes needed to be updated to be more "real-life." A good example of this is changing the serving size of ice cream from a half-cup to two-thirds cup.
The servings per container listing also was modified to be bigger and more easily found. Foods that are commonly finished in one sitting will change to one serving size to more accurately portray the nutrition facts per unit. Calories have always been one of the most important thing on a nutrition label and are still located on the top as the boldest, most easily found item. Calories from fat will be removed as recent studies show the type of fat is more important than the overall amount consumed.
As previously mentioned, added sugars are now required. Regardless of whether you claim "sugar free" on the label it is required for you to include added sugar in both grams and percent daily value. This helps consumers differentiate from naturally occurring or added sugars. Vitamins and minerals were also changed to remove Vitamin A and C as Americans rarely have deficiencies in these.
Lastly, updates were made to the % Daily Value footnote. The language is being updated to more clearly explain the meaning of %DV. With these nutrition label changes, the change will not be instant but over a few years as it can take food manufacturers a while to comply with the updated packaging.
Planning, researching and preparing today will put you ahead of the game and in a better place with FDA compliance. If you’re looking to stay up to date with nutritional labels, change your packaging, reach out and connect with an expert today. We’d love to connect and partner with you.
International Nutrition Label Requirements
If you’re looking to put your foodstuffs product on the marketplace internationally, what is required on the nutrition label? Navigating the food labeling world can definitely be tough, but Element will partner with you to provide peace of mind along with the resources and expertise to make your product a success.
We’ve already talked about what the US requires on their food labeling, but what about the EU? The EU has rules similar to the ones set by FDA in the US. They’re both based on international standards set by the Codex Alimentarius. This includes minimum font sizes for mandatory information, standard presentation practices for allergens and required nutritional information and required important nutritional characters.
There are clear differences though. One of the key differences is how they illustrate calories and other nutritional information. In the US, it is servings per container - for example, how many slices of bread come in a package. In the EU, all calories listed are based on 100 grams, or 3.5 ounces. There are benefits to each such as comparing the caloric intake of two separate foods, such as 100g of peanut butter to 100g of hazelnut spread, to determine which is healthier.
Other notable differences include the US listing sodium whereas the EU lists salt content. Smaller differences such as the EU requiring specific information on refined oils and fats such as olive oil and palm oil are not the case in the US.
Canadian nutrition labeling is more similar to the US than the EU. They both require the same standard things with a few additions such as listing food colors by their common names and grouping sugar-based ingredients in brackets after the name sugars. For comparing foods, Canada will continue to give serving sizes in addition to weight in grams.
Add Value to Your Products with a Committed Food Testing Partner
Nutrition labels are mandatory on almost all food products with the passing of the FDA’s Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA). Deciding what is needed for a nutrition label or what sort of packaging works best for your products can be an overwhelming process, but Element offers comprehensive nutritional analysis, labeling and packaging materials testing services. We are more than just a nutritional ingredient testing lab. Our industry-leading Ph.D. scientists can provide extensive regulatory and analytical support to help get your foodstuffs product on the marketplace and solve any complex analytical packaging challenges you may be facing.
With Element’s acquisition of Avomeen, Impact Analytical and Nanosyn in 2021 and Analytical Lab Group (ALG) in 2020, Element has combined all capabilities to offer a more expansive array of services and value to stakeholders with an unwavering commitment to scientific excellence and safety.
To learn more about our heavy metals testing services or other foodstuffs testing services, or to begin the testing process, please contact us today.
Andrew Kolbert, Ph.D., Sr. Leader, Technical Solutions
Andrew Kolbert, Sr. Leader, Technical Solutions, has over 20 years’ experience executing and managing analytical and product development programs. Element’s customers regularly benefit from his expertise in analytical chemistry and product development, particularly in highly regulated areas, including pharmaceutical development and testing, food additive and food contact notification testing and registration, and extractables and leachables studies. Dr. Kolbert holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
James Black joined Element in June 2021 as the Technical Director of Food Microbiology. Element’s customers benefit greatly from James’ expertise in food microbiology, food safety, food plant sanitation, food plant environmental testing, HACCP, FSMA, product shelf-life testing, challenge study design, sanitary design of food processing equipment, and process validation. James holds a B.S. in Biology from Mount Vernon Nazarene University. Throughout his career, James has worked within the food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, and has over nine years’ experience in third-party microbiological testing.
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