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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Making sense of the new food label

Lydia Kaume, Ph.D., RDN, LD, Nutrition and Health Education Specialist, Jackson County, University of Missouri Extension


Today’s consumers are fortunate to have widespread information and sophisticated tools available that enable us to make healthy, well-informed food and beverage choices. Jonathan Foley, former director of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, suggested a few years ago that consumers need to know not only all of the ingredients, but also where ingredients are grown and under what conditions. Recently, United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Public Health announced that in an effort to combat obesity they will change their food labels to include how much exercise is needed to burn off calories associated with the food. Their initiative is getting a lot of attention worldwide and is known as “activity equivalent” calorie labeling.


Generally, today’s consumer is more aware of the environmental and social issues surrounding our food system as well. This may not be what you would expect to find on a food label, however, issues such as deforestation, drainage of rivers to grow food, fertilizer and pesticide use, and status of farm workers, may influence a consumer’s choice. Therefore, to serve a variety of needs, our food labels include technical and non-technical terms and claims including non-GMOs, natural, no high fructose corn syrup, heart healthy, light, no toxic pesticides, no artificial flavors, GMO fed, organic, gluten free, etc.


New dual-column Nutrition Facts labelOn May 20, 2016, the FDA published a new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. Manufacturers will need to comply on or before July 26, 2018. This change is important in helping consumers make healthier choices to prevent chronic diseases such as obesity and heart disease.


The changes to the new nutrition facts label include:

  • Larger print/type making it easier to read
  • Updated serving sizes
  • Updated daily values (% DV)
  • Added sugars will be included on the label in grams and as % DV
  • Actual amounts of nutrients (listed at the bottom of the label) will be included, specifically for vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium
  • Dual-column labels will be used on certain products that are larger than a single serving to indicate the amount of calories and nutrients if the entire item is consumed at one time (columns will be “per serving” and “per container” amounts).


Nutrition and health educators often get the question, “Which of these factors on a food label is most important for me to watch?” This is not a simple question, and the answer may vary with individual need. Nonetheless, based on the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the most important nutrients to watch on a food label are in two categories:


  • Nutrients that we should have less of or avoid — those that have negative effects on health. Take away points for foods high in calories from fat, cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fats, added sugars and sodium.
  • Nutrients that we need more of and/or have no negative effects on health when eaten in correct amounts. Give points to foods high in fiber, vitamins and minerals and low in all or most of the negative nutrients above.


A great tool to use in determining high and low amounts of these nutrients is the percent Daily Value (% DV), which will be updated on the new nutrition facts label. The rule of thumb is 20% is high and 5% is low for any nutrient on the label, based on a 2000 calorie diet.


On an individual level, making healthy choices is complex and requires us to consider our values, health status, lifestyle, budget and health goals. When faced with the myriad of options in a food aisle, our choices will also be influenced by our understanding of tools and resources available to us as consumers. Check out these resources that can boost your understanding of foods and beverages to ensure you are better equipped for your next food and beverage decision.


  • Grocery store tours: These are a great way to get cutting-edge information on labeling and food choices. Tours are usually led by nutritionists or dieticians virtually or at the grocery store. Around the country, stores are providing this service to customers. In addition, the MU Extension nutrition and health education specialists often partner with local stores to conduct such educational tours for free. Contact your local MU Extension office to inquire about grocery store tours in your area.
  • Food Point System: Certain stores, including Price Cutter, Price Chopper and Hy-Vee, use the NuVal system which scores food on a scale of 1-100. According to NuVal, “The higher the NuVal Score, the better the nutrition.” The NuVal system reports that they use the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes to create their algorithm for measuring the nutritional quality of foods and beverages.





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Last update: Tuesday, June 28, 2016