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In the USA and in most countries around the world, packaged food comes with detailed nutritional labels. Most consumers, unfortunately, miss the single most informative line on the label.

It is hard to imagine now, but there was a time when packaged food came without the now-familiar nutrition facts label, also known as the nutrition information panel, and that time was only about 20 years ago.

When then commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration David Kessler first made a push for the Nutrition and Food Labeling Act in the United States in 1990, many critics doubted the new legislation would pass Congress.

It did, of course, and since 1995, most packaged foods in the United States have listed nutrients per serving. The European Union followed suit in 1996, Australia and New Zealand some after that, Canada in 2003, and most recently Mexico and India, all providing information about nutrients to avoid and nutrients provided by packaged foods in a single, easy-to-read table.

What's the Most Important Line Nutrition Information Panel?

In much of world, every manufacturer of packaged foods is required to list nutrients per serving of the food in the package.

The information nearly everyone overlooks is the found in the very first two lines of the label, the size of a serving, and the number of servings per container.

After all, if you are counting your calories, you really need to know whether that tiny carton of ice cream contains one serving of ice cream, two servings of ice cream, or, obviously reflecting measurements calculated by a nutritionist who had no weight problem, four or even more.

Food Labels Give the Bad News First

Without the information on serving size, none of the other data on a product label is any use. But maybe the reason most of us tend to ignore the number of servings in a package of processed food is we really don't want to know what comes next.

On labels in the US, UK, EU, and nations in the British Commonwealth, the next entries on every food label are:

  • Calories per serving
  • Calories from fat per serving
  • Fat grams
  • Saturated fat grams
  • Trans- fat grams
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Fiber
  • Sugars
  • Protein

Except for protein (and sometimes even for protein), the information at the top of the food label tells us about the nutritional no-no's in the convenience foods we love to eat. 

Moreover, if the consumer fails to take note of the number of servings in the package and the size of each serving, it is very easy to consume far more calories, fat, and sugar than first meets the eye.

It is necessary to get about half way down the label before you find nutrients we all feel good about.

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