Food/Nutrition Columnist
Facts Up Front
Jun 17, 2013 - 12:02:20 AM

( - Food labels are loaded with information. Some of the information is required by law, some of the information is voluntary, and some of the information is positioned to market the product to you more effectively. All this information is good but it can create information overload and complicate what you see and how efficiently you use the label.

According to the Institute of Food Technologist ( 66% of grocery shoppers look at the nutrition label, 51% read the ingredient list, and 48% notice and may use the the front-of-pack nutrition graphic. Facts Up Front ( is a voluntary labeling program developed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association ( and the Food Marketing Institute ( It simplifies the Nutrition Facts Panel, found on the back or side of a food label, into information that is easier to use. Consumer research has shown that front of package nutrition graphics made it easier for shoppers to make better food choices.

Facts Up Front began appearing on food labels in 2011 and the program continues to grow, even though it is voluntary. This is a perfect example of the marketplace offering shoppers what they need and want without government oversight. Companies participating in the Facts Up Front program also contribute to a fund that is used to educate shoppers to be aware of these symbols and effectively used them to choose foods.

You can consider the front of label graphic like the trailer for a movie. It gives you a sample of what is in the food to help you decide to buy it or not. This simple, visual tool can be used quickly when shopping, it does not require the shopper to do math, and can be very effective in making comparative food choices.

The typical Facts Up Front graphic displays calories per serving and information on 3 nutrients: saturated fat, sodium and sugar.

This information provides critical, simple information for those looking to lose weight, watch their fat intake, lower their sodium (salt), or reduce the amount of sugar they eat. It emphasizes those nutrients we should consider limiting.

Food companies can expand the graphic to include one or two more nutrients.

These additional nutrients need to be those we need to eat more of, such as potassium and vitamin A in the sample. The food must contain 10% or more of the nutrients listed. This meets the Food and Drug Administration's definition of a "good source." Using this icon with two extra nutrient values does make the graphic slightly confusing because now you have mixed nutrients to limit and nutrients to encourage with no supporting information. That is one of the major criticisms of the more complete Nutrition Facts Panel, there is too much information to digest.

On small food packages, with limited space, one icon may be used noting the calories in a serving of a food or a drink.

This complements the Clear on Calories ( labeling system that was developed by the American Beverage Association, in 2010, in response to Michelle's Obama's initiative to fight obesity. Beverage companies clearly note the number of calories in one drink serving on the front of the label.

Bottom line: Will Facts Up Front help you? Yes, especially if you are one of over 50% of grocery shoppers who are trying to buy foods and drinks that target specific health concerns. If you are aware of the icon system, look for it on labels, and use it to make food choices it can be an effective shopping tool that can be used quickly and easily. For example, when shopping for cereal with your children, you could point out those cereals high in sugar against those low in sugar. Even small children can compare larger numbers against smaller numbers. Turning a sometimes annoying shopping trip with kids into an education opportunity can make the entire trip worthwhile.

© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of the nutrition counter series for Pocket Books with sales of more than 8.5 million books.

Look for:

The Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd ed., 2013

The Calorie Counter, 6th Ed., 2013

The Complete Food Counter, 4th ed., 2012

The Diabetes Counter, 4th Ed., 2011

The Protein Counter, 3rd Ed., 2011

The Ultimate Carbohydrate Counter, 3rd Ed., 2010

The Fat Counter, 7th ed., 2009

The Healthy Wholefoods Counter, 2008

The Cholesterol Counter, 7th Ed., 2008

Your Complete Food Counter App:

For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to:


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