Nutrition Labelling... Get the Facts!
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Factsheet 4: A Closer Look at % Daily Value
Objective: To provide a detailed look at the % Daily Value (% DV), a simple benchmark for evaluating the nutrient content of foods quickly and easily.
Key Message for Consumers
Use % Daily Value to see if a food has a lot or a little of a nutrient.
What Is % Daily Value?
In the Nutrition Facts table, vitamins and minerals are expressed as a percentage of a Daily Value (% DV). Fat, saturated + trans fats, carbohydrate and fibre are expressed both by weight (grams) and also as a percentage of a Daily Value (% DV). For cholesterol, the % DV is optional and will sometimes be present in the Nutrition Facts table (but the amount of cholesterol by weight, in milligrams, will be listed). The % DV allows a quick and easy evaluation of a food's nutritional value. It reflects how much a specific nutrient a food contains relative to a Daily Value.
- The Daily Values developed for nutrition labelling are generally based on recommendations for a healthy diet. The key is that all consumers can use the % DV as a benchmark, whether their individual requirements are more or less than the Daily Value or whether or not they know their nutrient requirements. Daily Values refer to both the Recommended Daily Intakes for vitamins and minerals and to the Reference Standards for the other nutrients. The lists of Daily Values (Reference Standards and Recommended Daily Intakes) can be found in the Food and Drug regulations.
The actual amounts (g/mg) listed for nutrients may be useful for those with specific dietary needs.
How Is % DV Derived?
The Example of Iron
- The Daily Value for iron is 14 mg.
- To get the % DV, the actual amount of iron, in one stated label serving, is divided by the Daily Value and multiplied by 100. A product with 2 mg of iron, per stated label serving, would have a % DV of about 15%.
- The Daily Values for vitamins and minerals are based on the 1983 Recommended Nutrient Intakes for Canadians, and represent the highest recommended intake for each age/sex group, not including supplemental needs for pregnancy and breastfeeding.
The Example of Fat
It is recommended that a healthy diet should provide about 20-35% of Calories from fat. The Daily Value is based on a diet including 30% of Calories from fat.
- For the 2000-Calorie reference diet, this means 65 g of fat.
- The fat content of the food is expressed on the label as a percentage of 65 g.
- A product with 16 g of fat would have a % DV of 25%.
The recommendations for some nutrients are a fixed number that applies regardless of age, gender or caloric intake. In these cases, the Daily Value is that fixed number (e.g. the Daily Value for sodium is 2400 mg).
How to Use % DV for ...
Quick Product Evaluation
The % DV indicates whether there is a lot or a little of a nutrient in a stated amount of a food.
- Consumers can see whether the nutrients they are trying to increase (e.g. fibre, vitamins A and C, calcium, iron) have high percentages.
- Consumers can see whether the nutrients they are trying to decrease (e.g. saturated + trans fats, cholesterol, sodium) have low percentages.
The % DV provides a quick overview of the nutrient profile of the food, allowing product comparisons based on more than one nutrient.
- It puts nutrients on the same scale (0% - 100% DV), much like a ruler.
- Consumers can quickly identify strengths and weaknesses of a product.
- a food that has a % DV of 5% or less for fat, sodium or cholesterol would be low in these nutrients
- a food that has a % DV of 10% or less for saturated + trans fats would be low in these nutrients
- a food that has a % DV of 15% or more for calcium, iron or fibre would be high in these nutrients
The % DV indicates if adjustments in food selection are needed.
- Foods that are high in a nutrient are easily recognizable.
- % DV can help consumers identify when they need to make adjustments in other foods they choose or decrease the amount that they eat.
Activity - Reinforcing % Daily Value
Objective: To learn to make judgments about whether a serving of food is high or low in certain nutrients.
The value of % DV is reinforced by trying to do the exercise based first on nutrient weight (g/mg) only, then by comparing % DV.
Using sample products, have participants refer to the Nutrition Facts and focus on fat and sodium (listed in g /mg as well as % DV).
Describe the two ways of expressing nutrient information - by weight (g, mg) and % DV.
Have participants cover the % DV column and ask them to try to judge whether the product is high or low in certain nutrients based on the weights only. What is the amount of food on which the nutrient information is based? Look at the grams of fat, does the number look high or low? What about when participants look at the % DV? Look at sodium as an alternative nutrient.
Nutrient information presented only in grams or milligrams may be confusing. For example, small numbers may be viewed as insignificant and large numbers as significant. So, 110 mg of sodium (a large number) is only 5% of the Daily Value and 10 g of fat (a small number) is 15% of the Daily Value.
You May Have Noticed ...
- one combined % DV for saturated + trans fats
- both types of fat have negative effects on blood cholesterol levels which increase the risk of coronary heart disease
- optional % DV for cholesterol
- cholesterol: while it is a risk factor for heart disease, a reduction in saturated fat, which is found in meat and dairy products, will be accompanied by a reduction in cholesterol intake
- no % DV for sugars and protein
- sugars: there is no generally accepted target recommendation for the healthy population
- protein: intakes are generally adequate, and not a public health concern for Canadians who have access to a mixed diet
- vitamins and minerals (other than sodium and potassium) listed only as % DV
- these nutrients are usually expressed in different units like RE and µg, so using % DV makes it easier for consumers to understand the relative amounts present in the product
Only the Daily Values for carbohydrate, total fat and saturated + trans fats are based on a 2000-Calorie diet because the recommendations for those nutrients are related to energy (Calorie) intake. The footnote "Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-Calorie diet" is optional and may appear in the Nutrition Facts table. A 2000-Calorie diet is about right for moderately active women, teenage girls and sedentary men.