The 5/20 Rule Helps You Get More of the Nutrients You Need and Less of the Ones You Don't

Get more healthy nutrients in your diet by learning the 5/20 rule.
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When we're shopping at the supermarket, our attention is often drawn to the marketing claims on the fronts of food packaging: "Gluten-Free," "100% Organic," "Made With Whole Grains."

While these claims can be helpful if you have something specific you're looking — like if you're avoiding gluten — they can otherwise be overwhelming and difficult to discern. At the very least, they don't give us the full picture.

But if you turn the package over and spend some time reviewing the nutrition facts label, you'll start to get a better picture of what the food product has to offer nutritionally. And if you learn the 5/20 rule and how it applies to the nutrition label, you'll be better off yet.

What Is the 5/20 Nutrition Rule?

The 5/20 rule utilizes the Daily Value (DV) percentages, which are reflected on a nutrition facts label. As a reminder, the percent DV show how much of a nutrient the food provides compared to the total daily needs.

The 5/20 rule helps you decipher which nutrients the food has a high amount of and, conversely, which nutrients it's lower in. As a general guide from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA):

  • 5 percent DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low.
  • 20 percent DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high.

Tip

Look at the stated serving size and take that into consideration. Sometimes the portion may be smaller than what you’re eating.

How to Use the 5/20 Rule When You're Food Shopping

Here's how remembering this nifty rule helps you out: Whenever you're perusing nutrition labels, choose foods that are high in good nutrients, such as fiber, calcium, vitamin D, iron and potassium and lower in added sugars, saturated fat and sodium.

So if your goal is to eat more fiber or potassium, make sure you're choosing food products with a DV of 20 percent or higher.

And if you're looking to reduce salt in your diet, look for a product with a sodium DV of 5 percent or lower.

14 Nutrients You’ll Always Find on the Nutrition Facts Label

The nutrients shown on the nutrition facts label recently changed with the latest updates (more on that below), but here are the nutrients you can expect to find listed:

  • total fat
  • saturated fat
  • trans fat (no percent DV)
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • total carbohydrates
  • dietary fiber
  • total sugars
  • added sugars
  • protein (no percent DV)
  • vitamin D
  • calcium
  • iron
  • potassium

A vitamin and/or mineral must also be listed if it's been added to the food (e.g. a fortified cereal or bread) or if a claim is made on the package labeling about their health effects or the amount contained in the food (for example, "high" or "low").

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Changes to the Nutrition Label

With the new rollout of the updated nutrition label came more changes, which reflect the current body of research and knowledge we've gained in nutrition science over the past couple of decades.

Changes to Percent DVs

The label got a much-needed update to the percent Daily Values for a majority of the nutrients. Here are some of the major changes, per the FDA:

  • Added Sugars: This is a new DV and addition to the label — the added sugar DV is 50 grams per day, maximum.
  • Choline: This is a new Daily Value — the DV is 550 milligrams per day.
  • Fiber: The recommended DV increased from 25 to 28 grams.
  • Sodium: The DV of sodium decreased from 2,400 milligrams to 2,300 milligrams.
  • Calcium: Increased from 1,000 milligrams to 1,300 milligrams per day.
  • Fat: Increased from 65 grams to 78 grams.
  • Total Carbs: The DV decreased from 300 to 275 grams per day.
  • Vitamin B12: Decreased from 6 micrograms to 2.4 micrograms per day.
  • Vitamin C: The Daily Value increased from 60 milligrams to 90 milligrams
  • Vitamin D: The DV increased from 400 IUs to 20 micrograms

Other Changes

Here are some of the other significant changes that were made to the label by the FDA:

  • Serving sizes: Serving sizes and servings per container are now in a larger and bolder font. The serving sizes now reflect a more typical portion size — a portion that we would actually eat.
  • Calories: The font size has been significant increased and emboldened. "Calories from fat" has been removed.
  • Nutrients no longer required on the label: Vitamins A and C

The Bottom Line on the 5/20 Rule

Use the 5/20 rules as a guide, not as a hard and fast rule. Remember that it's about balance throughout the day so if you eat an item that is higher in added sugar or sodium, try to balance that out with what you eat the rest of the day.

Giving the ingredients list a quick once-over is important, too.

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