It helps to have a basic understanding of what Daily Values (DVs) and % DVs are, since they figure so prominently in deciphering nutrition labels.
DVs are the daily recommended intakes of nutrients, similar in ways to RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances) but specifically developed by the FDA for food (and supplement) labels. The % DVs can help you compare the nutrient content of products within the context of a total diet. As now stated on the Nutrition Facts label, they tell you “how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet,” with 2,000 calories a day used for “general nutrition advice”—and they are listed both for nutrients that you should limit and for those that you should aim to get more of. For example, the DV for saturated fat (a nutrient to limit) is 20 grams, so a food that has 5 grams of saturated fat per serving provides 25% of the DV for someone eating 2,000 calories a day.
The DV for calcium (a nutrient to get more of) is 1,300 milligrams (mg), so a food that has 130 mg of calcium provides 10% of the DV. A quick glance at the % Daily Value column on the label allows you to get a sense of whether the food has a lot or just a little of a particular nutrient per serving (or somewhere in between).
Of note, in conjunction with the development of the revised nutrition label, the FDA updated several of the DVs for nutrients that must be included on the label, as well as some of those that can be listed voluntarily, in order to reflect the latest nutrition science of what our daily needs are. These include:
Fiber. As research continues to confirm the many health benefits of fiber, such as reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, the DV for fiber has been increased, from 25 grams to 28 grams. (Your actual fiber requirement will be higher than the DV if you consume more than 2,000 calories a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories; people with diabetes should aim even higher.)
Sodium. More evidence confirming that a high intake of sodium can raise blood pressure led to the DV being decreased slightly from 2,400 mg to 2,300 mg. (But experts also advise that people with, or at risk for, hypertension or cardiovascular disease should aim even lower, less than 1,500 mg.)
Potassium. The DV for this mineral, which plays an important role in blood pressure regulation and other body functions, increased from 3,500 mg to 4,700 mg.
Calcium and vitamin D. The DV for calcium increased from 1,000 to 1,300 mg, in recognition of its importance for bone health. The DV for vitamin D was doubled and is now measured in micrograms (mcg) rather than International Units (IU), with the new DV being 20 mcg (corresponding to 800 IU).
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.