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Understanding Food Labels and Nutrition Facts Labels

The nutrition facts label (also known as the nutrition information panel, and various other slight variations) is a label required on most pre-packaged foods.

In the U.S., the nutritional facts label lists the percentage supplied required in one day of human nutrients based on the average 2000 calorie a day diet.

The label was mandated for most food products under the provisions of the 1990 Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), per the recommendations of the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Food and Drug Administration. It was one of several controversial actions taken during the tenure of FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler. The law required food companies to begin using the new food label on packaged foods beginning May 8, 1994. Foods labeled before that day could use the old label. This appeared on all products in 1995. The old label was titled "Nutrition Information Per Serving" or simply, "Nutrition Information".

The label begins with a standard serving measurement, calories are listed second, and then following is a break down of the constituent elements. Always listed are total fat, sodium, carbohydrates and protein; the other nutrients usually shown may be suppressed if they are zero. Usually all 15 nutrients are shown: calories, calories from fat, fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

Products containing less than 5g of fat show amounts rounded to the nearest .5g. Amounts less than .5g are rounded to 0g. For example, if a product contains .45g of trans fat per serving, and the package contains 18 servings, the label would show 0g of trans fat, even though the product actually contains a total of 8.1g of trans fat.

Important: Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

Products that claim to be classified as low-fat and high-fiber must achieve uniform definitions between products of similar labels.

Remember: You can use the Nutrition Facts label not only to help limit those nutrients you want to cut back on but also to increase those nutrients you need to consume in greater amounts.