Q. Can I trust the information on nutrition labels?

A. Nutrition Facts panels on packages do contain accurate, reliable information on ingredients, serving size, and amount of nutrients per serving. However, the Daily Value (DV) numbers may be out of date. The DV used on food labels refers to Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA), established in 1968. These RDAs were based on how much of a nutrient was necessary to prevent deficiency disease, rather than to ensure optimum functioning.

In 2003, the Food and Drug Administration, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service, and Health Canada sponsored a committee to look at current nutrition values. The committee suggested shifting from RDA values to Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which include four categories covering the most current nutrient requirements and better reflect the nutrient needs of the average person. If the United States and Canada adopt these recommendations, the Daily Values on the Nutrition Facts panels of packaged foods could change dramatically. In the meantime, consumers can still look to labels for some valuable information and at least to compare products.

This Ask the Expert was written by Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian and food and nutrition journalist in Southern California.