understand food and supplement labels

Labels – Do You Know the Rules of Engagement?

The Nutrition Facts and Supplement Facts labels are there to help us navigate the sea of choices that we face every time we shop.  I get asked about labels all the time, especially since there are some things changing on them.  I wrote this to get you to the nitty gritty of some things you need to know that you might not even know you need to know. You know? 😉

As a shopper myself, it helps me trust the content in the Facts panel, whether on food or supplements, to know that each product, regardless of brand, has to follow the same rules in presenting information in the Facts panel, and it’s based on current science.  Yep. These nuggets of information have to be presented the same way, regardless of the company. Now it can vary for a variety of reasons, but there are rules about that, too. Like if it’s a long or wide label? That’s not by accident.  Kind of feels good to know that, doesn’t it?

If you are like me and want to nerd out more, click the links I put in to “go there”. 🤓  You don’t need to memorize details, so don’t freak out as you see how much thought is behind the simple-looking design.

Outside of the Facts panel is marketing messaging. That’s different than what is in the Facts panel itself. Thus, your first point of interest in learning about the labels is this:

Education can be included in marketing, but not all marketing is educational. 

The smartest marketing (IMO) is clever, witty, scientifically accurate, and informative.

Some marketing is for entertainment.

It’s fun to see how a brand wants to share its story with us, and it’s up to us to know if they are talking personality or product. Distinguishing the two actually makes us better at appreciating their work in crafting their packaging to engage with us. I”m keeping it to the Facts panel in this particular blog.

The next points of interest for you are about the actual structure and content. Ever notice that you can put two boxes from different brands next to each other and the labels match up in terms of size and order so you can compare them easily? Yep. That’s intentional. Check out this screen shot from the FDA for insight on this, down to the font size and how big the lines need to be between sections:

nutrition facts label structure details

From: https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/industry-resources-changes-nutrition-facts-label#Format. Accessed 8.3.19.

Remember I said whether it’s long or wide? Yes indeed. Package size and shape are part of why things are presented they way they are. SO FUN (and helpful) to know!

Nutrition Facts example
From: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2016-05-27/pdf/2016-11867.pdf#page=246. Accessed 8.4.19

The simplified version of the label isn’t willy nilly, either. Here is a snip of that so you see the magnitude of details covered in even this version:

Nutrition Facts simple label
From https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2016-05-27/pdf/2016-11867.pdf#page=246. Accessed 8.4.19

Check out this side-by-side comparison of what the panel used to look like on food, and what it will look like moving forward with details on the actual content:

What's new on the Nutrition Facts Label
From: https://www.fda.gov/media/99331/download

In addition to the Nutrition Facts updates, supplement labels are being updated, too.

what is changing on the supplement facts label
From: https://belabelwise.org/infographic/

Trust that the rules of engagement are the same for the companies who use the FACTS panels. It’s also important to note that there are label claims in regards to food and supplements. It’s not by accident that lots of information is shared on packages that is evidence-based and can help with managing our health goals, and this cuts across all brands, too. You can read more about that here.

The way information is presented is about as important as what the information is. Once you get that, you can dance down a food or a supplement aisle and know that the FACTS are level playing fields, and you can focus on the content presented in the framework.

Let the (informed) shopping fun begin.

I was invited to #SFH2019. My travel was covered to attend this educational conference where I received continuing education credit for the science and updates that were shared with us. I was not asked to write this blog. It was inspired by a session on supplements by the Council for Responsible Nutrition. They shared that supplement labels were changing, too, so I thought it would be helpful to combine the Nutrition and Supplement Facts panels details into one post.

The most important thing is for people to know there are changes coming to food and supplement labels that will impact how information is presented to us. In most cases, the product itself is not changing, but how we get information on that product is, and I wanted to help clear up any potential confusion on this. Contact me or share a note in comments if you have additional questions or thoughts.