Sunday, May 13, 2007

Food Labeling: Part 4

This is the last in my series of articles about the food nutrient facts label that is required to be on all food products (with some exceptions for raw products) sold in the United States.

Both the bottom section, the Footnote in orange, and the section of the food label on the right side, the % Daily Value in purple, use something called Daily Value (DV). This may be one of the more confusing features of the food nutrition labels. But, it can give general guidelines if you understand its referent.

DV stands for Daily Value, a new dietary reference value to help consumers use food label information to plan a healthy overall diet. For those of us following a weight-loss diet, its utility may be better for the vitamins and minerals, shown below the second black bar, than for the other nutrients.

DVs are actually made up of two sets of reference values for nutrients: Daily Reference Values, or DRVs, and Reference Daily Intakes, or RDIs. Both of these are used as the basis for calculating percent Daily Values.

DRVs are for nutrients for which no set of standards previously existed, such as fat and cholesterol. RDIs were previously called "U.S. RDAs" (Recommended Daily Allowances), and were based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances, set by the National Academy of Sciences. The FDA used the RDAs as the basis for setting U.S. RDAs (now called RDIs). Clear? What we used to call RDAs and the more recent DRVs are used to calculate the amounts and percentages used on the food labels.

Generally, Daily Reference Values, based on 2,000 calories a day for adults and children over 4, can give us a general guide that 5%DV or less is low for all nutrients, we want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium), or for those that we want to consume in greater amounts (fiber, calcium, etc). 20%DV or more is high for all nutrients.


DRVs for the energy-producing nutrients, and therefore the ones we are concerned with for weight loss, (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and fiber) are based on the number of calories consumed per day. For labeling purposes, 2,000 calories has been established as the reference for calculating percent Daily Values. This level was chosen, in part, because many health experts say it approximates the maintenance calorie requirements of the group most often targeted for weight reduction: postmenopausal women. Clearly this is an oversimplification. If we are not postmenopausal women trying to maintain our current weight, this doesn’t strictly apply to us. We can only use it as a rough guide.

Whatever the calorie level, DRVs for the energy-producing nutrients are always calculated as follows:

  • fat based on 30 percent of calories
  • saturated fat based on 10 percent of calories
  • carbohydrate based on 60 percent of calories
  • protein based on 10 percent of calories. (The DRV for protein applies only to adults and children over 4. RDIs for protein for special groups have been established.)
  • fiber based on 11.5 g of fiber per 1,000 calories.

The DRVs for cholesterol, sodium and potassium, which do not contribute calories, remain the same whatever the calorie level.

Therefore, the label will show DVs for fats and sodium as follows:

  • total fat: less than 65 g
  • saturated fat: less than 20 g
  • cholesterol: less than 300 mg (milligrams)
  • sodium: less than 2,400 mg

Percent Daily Values

The percentage Daily Values are useful in making comparisons between foods as long as the serving sizes are similar, especially the weight (e.g. gram, milligram, ounces) of each food or product. It's easy to see which foods are higher or lower in nutrients because the serving sizes are generally consistent for similar types of foods

The %DV can help distinguish one claim from another, such as "reduced fat" vs. "light" or "nonfat." By comparing the %DVs for Total Fat in each food product to see which one is higher or lower in that nutrient, there is no need to remember the definitions

More importantly for our diets, is that they can help us make informed decisions about what foods to buy and eat. If a favorite food is high in fat, you can balance it with foods that are low in fat at other times of the day.

Nutrients without a %DV: Trans Fats, Protein, and Sugars:

Trans fat, Sugars and, Protein do not list a %DV on the Nutrition Facts label.

Trans Fat: No reference value has been established for trans fat sufficient to establish a Daily Value or %DV. Trans fat (and saturated fat) are implicated in raising blood LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels, both of which increase your risk of coronary heart disease.

Protein: A %DV is required to be listed if a claim is made for protein, such as "high in protein". Otherwise, unless the food is meant for use by infants and children under 4 years old, none is needed.

Sugars: No daily reference value has been established for sugars because no recommendations

have been made for the total amount to eat in a day. The sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label include naturally occurring sugars as well as those added to a food or drink. The ingredient list is the best guide for added sugars.

Reference Lists

For reference, here is a list of the food components and the DRV for each of them.

Food Component



65 grams (g)


fatty acids 20 g


300 milligrams (mg)

total carbohydrate

300 g


25 g


2,400 mg


3,500 mg


50 g

Despite the fact that the DVs are based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances compiled by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy lists different amounts for men and women. I list them here for reference.

Recommended Dietary Allowances


Nutrient Amount for

men /day

Amount for women


30 mcg

30 mcg


1,000-1,200 mg

1,000-1,200 mg


1,800-2,300 mg

1,800-2,300 mg


30-35 mcg

20-25 mcg


550 mg

425 mg


900 mcg

900 mcg


4 mg

3 mg

Folic acid

400 mcg

400 mcg


150 mcg

150 mcg


8 mg

8-18 mg


400-420 mg

310-320 mg


2.3 mg

1.8 mg


45 mcg

45 mcg


16 mg

14 mg

Pantothenic acid

5 mg

5 mg


700 mg

700 mg


56 grams (g)

46 grams



1.3 mg

1.1 mg


55 mcg

55 mcg


1.2 mg

1.1 mg

Vitamin A

900 mcg

700 mcg

Vitamin B-12

2.4 mcg

2.4 mcg

Vitamin B-6

1.3-1.7 mg

1.3-1.5 mg

Vitamin C

90 mg

75 mg

Vitamin D

5-15 mcg or 200-400 IU

5-15 mcg or 200-400 IU

Vitamin E

15 mg or 22.5 IU

15 mg or 22.5 IU

Vitamin K

120 mcg

90 mcg


11 mg

8 mg

Dietary Reference Intakes National Academy of Sciences, 2004;Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition, 2004; Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005; American Heart Association, 2006

Terms for Reference

DVs (Daily Values): A dietary reference term that appears on the food label. It is made up of two sets of references, DRVs andRDIs.

DRVs (Daily Reference Values): A set of dietary references that applies to fat, saturated fat, cholesterol,carbohydrate, protein, fiber, sodium, and potassium.

RDIs (Reference Daily Intakes): A set of dietary references based on the Recommended Dietary Allowances for essential vitamins and minerals and, in selected groups, protein. The name "RDI" replaces the term "U.S. RDA."

RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances): A set of estimated nutrient allowances established by the National Academy of Sciences.

The Label Footnote

Finally we come to the label footnote. The footnote will always be the same. It doesn't change from product to product, because it shows recommended dietary advice for all Americans--it is not about a specific food product. The * used after the heading "%Daily Value" on the Nutrition Facts label refers to the Footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label, which tells you "%DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet". The amounts circled in red in the footnote are the Daily Values (DV) for each nutrient listed. DVs are recommended levels of intakes based on either a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. The DVs for some nutrients change, while others (for cholesterol and sodium) remain the same for both calorie amounts.

Here is my recap for the last two days.

Daily Dietary Recap-5/11/2007
Calories Protein Carbohydrates SodiumFat % Calories from Fat
1258.67 67.28 g 232.02 g646.17 mg 14.69 g 10.5%

Daily Dietary Recap-5/12/2007
Calories Protein Carbohydrates SodiumFat % Calories from Fat
1367 80.89 g 230.73 g1381 mg 17.38 g 11.44%

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