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About Food Labeling
All packaged foods and drinks in the United States come with food labels on them. These labels provide you with nutrition facts that could help you choose better foods and consume a healthy diet.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates most food labels. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) regulates labels for poultry and meat products. The required nutrition information on FSIS-regulated product labels is almost identical to that for products regulated by the FDA. Both agencies have worked simultaneously to standardize nutrition labels.
Food labeling is a requirement for most prepared foods, like:
- Frozen foods
- Canned foods
Nutritional labels for raw product s(vegetables and fruits) as well as for fish is voluntary. These types of products are referred to as “conventional” foods. The food label information can help you fit certain foods and beverages into your overall diet. Food labels list items per serving, such as:
- Fats (saturated fat, total fat, and trans fat)
- Vitamins and minerals
- Carbohydrates (total sugar, fiber, and added sugar)
It’s also important to know if what you’re eating contains GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) or MSG (Monosodium Glutamate).
What Are GMOs?
GMOs are organisms where the DNA or genetic material has been changed to a point where it doesn’t occur naturally. Basically, it’s thought GM foods would mean greater benefits, like nutritional value or durability but at a lower price. However, GMOs haven’t been proven to be safe.
Any investigations on GMOs and health typically focus on things like specific elements believed to have toxic or nutritional properties, toxicity or direct health effects, tendencies to bring on allergic reactions, and more.
But their effect on an individual’s health and the environment hasn’t been studied sufficiently. Even so, around 80% of U.S. packaged foods contain GMO ingredients.
GMO crops in the United States include:
- Sugar Beets
Environmental investigations look for possible detrimental effects of GMOs on beneficial insects or wildlife and plant biodiversity consequences.
And, since GMO labeling is still not required in the U.S., you might find hidden GMOs in certain foods, like:
You might find these in:
- Baked goods
- Soft drinks
- Chocolate ice creams
- Instant soup
- And other snacks.
What Is MSG?
MSG is a flavor enhancer that causes you to want more of the food you eat that contains it. However, no evidence of any long-term consequences was found with MSG and the FDA reaffirmed this in 1995.
However, the FDA stated some individuals could experience short-term reactions, such as:
- A feeling of facial swelling
- Chest pain
- Sweating and/or flushing
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat fluttering
How to Read Food Labeling Without Being Misled
The FDA has required all food companies since the 1990s to include Nutrition Facts labels on all their product packaging. This decision was made due to years and years of misleading health claims being put on food packaging that made it difficult for consumers to adhere to nutritional recommendations that were science-based.
Research into Nutrition Facts labeling, supports the idea these types of labels help consumers make better and more informed decisions about their food. Research shows 76% of adults do read the labels when they buy packaged foods and over 60% of consumers use the sugar information provided on the label.
Before you read the food labeling, there are some things you should know, including:
- Serving size: This is based on how much individuals typically eat and drink at one time.
- Servings number: The number of servings lets you know the number of servings the entire package or container has. Certain labels will provide you with data about nutrients and calories for both the serving size and the entire package or container. Many labels, however, only tell you the data for each serving size. When deciding on how much you’re going to eat and drink, you’ll want to consider the serving size. For instance, if a bottle of juice contains a couple of servings and you drink the entire bottle, you’ll be doubling the sugar and other facts listed on the label.
- Percent daily value (%DV): This is the number that will help you understand the certain amount of a nutrient in a single serving. The %DV informs you of the percentage of the day-to-day recommendation you obtain from a single serving of food. Experts recommend you obtain a certain amount of various nutrients each day. With the %DV, you’ll be able to figure out if a certain food is low or high in a particular nutrient. For instance, 5% or less would be low in the nutrient and 20% or more would be high in the nutrient.
Other important information on a food label you should look into is:
- Calories: You’ll see the number of calories in each serving size as well as the number of calories from fat.
- Cholesterol: You’ll see the amount of cholesterol in one serving size, with no differentiation between cholesterol from unsaturated or saturated fats.
- Total fat: The total fat is measured in grams. You’ll see the types of fat within the serving size of the food.
- Sodium: Sodium is naturally found in many foods, like sugar. For the most part, healthy adults should maintain a diet with less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day.
- Dietary fiber: Essential for good nutrition, dietary fiber helps with bowel function and digestion.
Added Fat, Sodium, and Sugar
Keep in mind, many foods have added fat, sodium, and sugar. Some examples of added fat are butter, animal fat, lard, and vegetable oils. Honey, corn syrup, glucose, and brown rice sugar are examples of added sugar. While baking powder, sea salt, sodium citrate, and iodized salt are types of added sodium.
How Food Labeling Can Help With Your Health
The decisions you make about the food you eat are decisions you’re making about your health. Many studies have associated poor diets with chronic disease and obesity. A critical tool that has been helping people make these important decisions is the Nutrition Facts label.
Nutrition information can help you make healthier choices when dining out. When menus include calorie information, for instance, consumers often order foods with lower calories. Plus, country-level information has found a link between labeling requirements on restaurant calorie labeling and a reduction in body mass index.
Plus, food label nutrition information is valued most by individuals who require it the most. Consumers who have certain illnesses like high cholesterol or high blood pressure or dietary restrictions are more likely to refer to labeling information for making their dietary selections align with the recommendations from their doctors.
Companies required to list all their unhealthy ingredients often put less of these healthy ingredients in their foods and products. Therefore, labeling requirements could be thought of as a bonus, because it means healthier selections for consumers.