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How Can Nutrition Labels Lie if They are Regulated?

Have you even wondered if nutrition labels lie, or at least stretch the truth? Well, the FDA’s food labeling regulations allow for a 20% margin of error in the declared values of certain nutrients.  These include carbohydrates, calories, and sugars. This means that the actual content of these nutrients in a product could be up to 20% higher or lower than what is stated on the label1. It’s important to keep in mind that the declared values are averages and may not represent the exact content of every unit. Additionally, certain items like “artificial flavors” are not included in calculations for the total percentages listed on the label. This means that the overall composition of a product may not fully account for the presence of these additives1.

It’s important to be aware of such exclusions when interpreting the information provided on the label. When reading food labels, it is crucial to understand that the numbers presented are more of a ballpark range rather than exact figures. Variations in ingredients, manufacturing processes, and testing methods can contribute to the potential discrepancies. It’s always advisable to consider the information on a food label as a general guide rather than an absolute certainty.

 Are the Percentages on Labels Useful in Tracking Daily Consumption? 

The percentages listed on a food label are indeed based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet. The FDA implemented a guideline that considers anything under 20% as an acceptable amount2. This guideline aims to provide a general reference for consumers following a 2,000-calorie diet. However, it’s important to recognize that individuals have different caloric needs and energy expenditures. Not everyone consumes exactly 2,000 calories per day.  In fact, energy expenditure can vary significantly due to factors such as activity level, metabolism, and body composition. Relying solely on the percentages listed on a food label may not accurately reflect your own daily consumption habits.

If your caloric needs are different from 2,000 calories, the percentages may not align with your individual dietary requirements. It’s crucial to consider your own nutritional needs and adjust the percentages accordingly. To gain a more accurate understanding of your daily consumption, it can be beneficial to consult with a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian.  They can assess your specific requirements and provide personalized dietary recommendations. 

Here’s How to Pick the Right Foods!

When it comes to being mindful of what you eat, one useful guideline is to pay attention to the number of ingredients in a food product. As a rule of thumb, if a product has more than five ingredients, its not-sp-good.  Also, if you struggle to pronounce them, it may be an indication that the item is not necessary for your dietary needs. Focus on simplifying your food choices and opting for products with fewer, recognizable ingredients.  This way you can make more informed decisions about the foods you consume. 

It’s important to note that while this guideline can be helpful, it is not a definitive measure of a product’s nutritional value. Some nutritious and beneficial foods may contain more than five ingredients, including natural or functional additives. Additionally, some complex ingredient names may simply be scientific or technical terms rather than harmful substances. To gain a deeper understanding of the nutritional content and value of a food item, it is advisable to read the entire ingredient list. Consider the proportions of key ingredients, and evaluate the overall nutrient composition and balance. 


  1. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – Food Labeling Guide. Retrieved from: 
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – Nutrition Facts Label. Retrieved from: