The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has shifted many of our daily routines, including the ways we eat. Perhaps you have stocked up on packaged foods and find yourself cooking at home more than usual. As we adjust, you may want to think about ways you and your family can eat more healthfully.
“The Nutrition Facts label can help you learn more about the foods you have on hand or are purchasing online or in stores, especially if you are purchasing different foods because of temporary disruptions in the food supply chain or are buying more canned or packaged foods instead of fresh,” says Claudine Kavanaugh, Ph.D., MPH, RD, in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN). “You can use the information on the label to assist in planning balanced meals and healthy total dietary intakes.”
The FDA recently updated several elements of the Nutrition Facts label. It is now on many food products, with others carrying it by next year. Take a look at these new features:
- Calories are now displayed in larger, bolder font.
- Some serving sizes have been updated to better reflect what people actually eat and drink.
- Added sugars, vitamin D and potassium are now listed.
- Daily values have been updated. The percent Daily Value (%DV) shows how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a total daily diet.
“You can use the label to help you choose foods that contain more beneficial nutrients and less of those you may want to limit,” says Kavanaugh.
Choosing foods and drinks that are higher in dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium and consuming fewer foods and drinks that are high in saturated fat, sodium and added sugars can help reduce the risk of developing certain health conditions—such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and anemia. The label shows the amount of these nutrients in grams and milligrams and as a percent Daily Value (%DV). You can use the %DV to balance foods that have higher levels of sodium with those that have less sodium, for example.
Here are some general nutrition tips for certain nutrients:
Calories. Calories refers to the total number of calories, or "energy," supplied from all sources (carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol) in one serving of the food. To achieve or maintain a healthy body weight, you should balance the number of calories you consume with the number of calories your body uses, and balance higher-calorie meals with ones with fewer calories. Two thousand calories a day is used as a general guide for nutrition advice. Your calorie needs may be higher or lower and vary depending on your age, sex, height, weight and physical activity level. Learn your number at ChooseMyPlate.gov/Resources/MyPlatePlan.
Sodium. The Nutrition Facts label shows the amount in milligrams and the % Daily Value of sodium per serving of the food. The Daily Value for sodium is up to 2,300 mg per day. If you want to reduce sodium, look for the words light, low sodium, reduced sodium or no-salt on packaged foods. You can also flavor foods with herbs and spices and no-salt or low-salt seasoning blends, and rinse sodium-containing canned foods, such as beans, tuna and vegetables before eating.
Added Sugars. The updated Nutrition Facts label shows the amount in grams and the % Daily Value of added sugars per serving of the food. The Daily Value for added sugars is up to 50 g per day. This is based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet—your Daily Value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Dietary Fiber. The Daily Value for dietary fiber is 28 g per day. This is based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet—again, your Daily Value may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs. In addition, look for whole grains on the ingredient list on a food package. Some examples of whole grain ingredients are barley, brown rice, buckwheat, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, rolled oats, whole grain corn, whole grain sorghum, whole oats, whole rye and whole wheat. Choose whole fruit as snacks and as desserts, when possible. To increase your fiber intake, keep raw, cut-up vegetables handy for quick snacks and try unsalted nuts and seeds in place of some meats and poultry.
Check the Interactive Nutrition Facts Label for additional information of specific nutrients you see on the Nutrition Facts label.
Here are some additional resources you may find helpful: