Nutrition Labels, Explained | Part 3 | Can you trust them?

Wednesday, April 15 2020 11:45 AM
By Ellen Healy

In this series about nutrition labels so far, we have discussed the history in Part 1 and the nutrients listed in Part 2. Today, we tie it all together, answering the important question…

Can You Trust Nutrition Labels?

Unfortunately, nutrition labels aren’t as transparent as we – the consumers – might hope.

Margin Of Error

The law allows a margin of error of up to 20 percent for the stated value versus the actual value of nutrition. Those handy “100 calories” portioned snacks could have up to 120 calories without violating the law. Beyond calorie-counters, this can have a serious impact on diabetic carb counters or people with high blood pressure who have to monitor sodium.

The FDA doesn’t have a systematic auditing process set up, and food manufacturers are expected to self-enforce the law.



Does that mean you should ignore nutrition labels altogether?


Studies have shown that the awareness of a food’s approximate nutritional content and portion size influences eating behaviors in a beneficial way. So while you may be consuming 20 more calories than you’re intending by grabbing that pre-portioned snack, it can help you balance healthy eating choices with a busy lifestyle.

Don’t be fooled by Packaging and Marketing

Brands use packaging to try to get you to purchase their product over their competitors, using phrases like "natural" to sell their product. You also might notice a flux of brands tweaking their packaging to feature nutrition “highlights” more prominently. Whether that is Kellogg’s blasting “whole grains” or “natural” being added to hotdog packaging to call out their “unnatural” competitors, it’s important to consider the marketing strategy that went into the packaging decision.

Natural and Organic, FDA Approved

The FDA considers “natural” food to not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives and be only minimally processed. This says nothing about if they may contain GMOs, hydrogenated vegetable oils, antibiotics, or growth hormones. Currently, organic is the only seal that is legitimately recognized and monitored by the USDA. Last fall, the FDA asked the public their thoughts on what constitutes as “natural,” so fingers crossed that clarification is coming. By keeping your focus on the nutrition facts on the back of the package and the ingredient list, you’ll be able to avoid any gimmicks that are trying to sway your opinion about the nutritional superiority of the food.


The Bottom Line:

Pay close attention to nutrition labels and understand the nutrients and their ammounts listed. Be aware of marketing strategies and don't fall for them! Use nutrion labels as a guide.


We hope this series helps you with your health and wellness journey! After all, having an understanding of food, it’s nutrients and amounts, will help you reach your fitness goals!

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