July 22, 2024
close up of a healthy vegetable sandwich with lettuce and tomato and a nutrition facts label under a microscope

March is National Nutrition Month, which makes this a good time to learn about using the Nutrition Facts label to make healthy choices.

Most people in the U.S. don’t eat a healthy diet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most consume too much sodium, saturated fat and sugar, increasing their risk of chronic diseases. 

The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods is a tool created by the Food and Drug Administration to help consumers make healthy choices at the supermarket. This label on packaged foods and drinks lists total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, total sugars, added sugars, protein, and certain vitamins and minerals.

The format of the Nutrition Facts label was updated in 2020, and changes included:

  • A line item for added sugars.
    In addition to natural sugars found in fruits, dairy products and grains, some foods contain added sugars in high quantities. Too much sugar increases your risk of chronic health problems, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
  • Easier calorie counting and realistic serving sizes.
    Changes to the label regarding the way the calorie count and serving size are listed can help make your calorie counting more accurate.
  • A change to the way fats are listed.
    Because research shows that the type of fat you eat is more important than the amount, the “calories from fat” line was removed. There is still a listing of grams and percent daily values for both saturated and trans fats because eating too much of these types of fats can increase your risk of heart disease.
  • A change to the listing of certain nutrients.
    Vitamin D, potassium, calcium and iron are required on the new label. Vitamin D and potassium are new additions because research suggests that people in the U.S. don’t always get enough of these nutrients. Vitamin A and vitamin C deficiencies are rare today, so they are optional on the new label.

Reading labels and choosing healthy foods to buy is the first step to adopting a healthy diet. Be sure to include a variety of foods from the major food groups:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products and lean protein, including beans and other legumes, nuts and seeds
  • Healthy fats

Connect with others talking about living well in the Healthy Living support group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic.

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