Why Does the Food I Buy Have Symbols on the Front of the Package?

 Do you read the nutrition labels on the foods that you buy?  Sometimes the nutrition label can be confusing.  What do those numbers really mean anyway?  The food industry is trying to make it a little easier to get nutrient information about a product quickly without having to search through a long list of numbers.  These are called front of the package symbols. 

The purpose of the Front of Package (FOP's) symbols is to help you make healthier choices through simple, easy to use nutrition information. We all want a simple way to sum up the large amount of nutrition information found on the Nutrition Facts Panel.  Front of package symbols try to do that in a single picture.  There are three different types of front of package symbols used by companies:

  • Nutrient Specific.  This means the symbol shows nutrients per serving, such as the one shown below from a cereal box.  Here is some helpful information about these numbers:
    • Calories -- most people need about 2000 calories a day to maintain a healthy weight.  This serving has about 25% of the days worth of calories in one serving.
    • Saturated fat -- usually fats that are solid at room temperature.  These include: butter, cream, shortening, pork and beef fat, and lard.  Look for foods that have less than 5% of your daily value per serving in them. 
    • Sodium -- otherwise known as salt.  Eating foods high in sodium have been shown to make your blood pressure go up.  A healthy diet should have less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day.
    • Sugars -- foods that are high in sugar add calories but have little nutritional value.  Choose the foods that have the lowest amount of sugar.
Nutrient Specific Label 
  • Summary Indicator -- This uses a single picture to show a specific nutrient.
Summary Indicator
  • Food Group Symbol --  a symbol to show what type of food group is part of the product.  This symbol is an example of the Whole Grain Council whole grain stamp.  
Food Group Symbol

Here are some ways you can use the existing front of package symbols to help you make healthy choices:
  • Compare similar products.
  • See the calories per serving in a food.
  • Look at the fat, sodium, sugar, and other nutrients.
  • A starting point to get more information from the Nutrition Facts Panel.
Just remember:
  • A symbol on the package does not guarantee the product is a healthy food.
  • Different manufacturers use different symbols to show the same information.
The front of package symbol gives you a fast and easy look at some of the nutrients found in the food.  Still use your nutrition facts label reading skills to get the whole picture!

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This institution is an equal opportunity provider. This material was funded by USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP in cooperation with Maryland's Department of Human Services and University of Maryland Extension. The University of Maryland Extension will not discriminate against any person because of race, age, sex, color, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, religion, ancestry or national origin, marital status, genetic information, political affiliation, and gender identity or expression.
© Eat Smart, Be Fit Maryland!Maira Gall