This article is from the Diet FAQ, by Claudia McCreary email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
The new nutrition labels, which debuted in May 1994, may make evaluating the
nutritional values of processed foods a little easier for most people. The
new labels list not only the amounts (weights) of fat (total and saturated),
cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (total, fiber, and sugars), and protein
in the food, but also the percentage of the "Daily Value" that most of these
provide. (The term "Daily Value" replaces the old term "Recommended Daily
Allowance," although the actual nutrition recommendations have not changed.)
Daily Value percentages are also listed for vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium,
and iron; depending on the food, percentages for other vitamins and
minerals may be given. A Daily Value percentage is not given for protein.
(FDA pamphlet #932260, "How to Read the New Food Label," states that "most
Americans get more protein than they need"; presumably this is why no value
is listed.) The Daily Value percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day
diet in which no more than 30% of the calories come from fat, so if your
needs are different, you'll need to keep this in mind when reading the
labels. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration offers a simple rule of thumb:
If the percentage of Daily Value for a given nutrient is less than 5%, the
food is considered low in that nutrient. Therefore, you should look for
foods that have low Daily Value percentages for fat, cholesterol, and
sodium, and high percentages of carbohydrates (including fiber), vitamins,
Other provisions of the new food labeling standards:
*All packaged, processed foods must now carry nutrition labels. Previously,
nutrition labels were voluntary, and many foods were unlabeled.
* Terms such as "fat-free," "low-fat," "lean," "light" (or "lite"), etc. are
now defined by the government. Previously, food manufacturers were free to
describe their foods in any way they liked.
* The serving sizes used to determine the Daily Value percentages are now
more realistic (read "larger") and are expressed in terms that are easier
for consumers to deal with. For example, serving sizes for chips and
crackers are now expressed as "x pieces" rather than "x ounces."