New Food Label Spotlight: Most relevant minerals

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Americans spend 30 billion on supplements annually despite a lack of clear evidence that they improve health.1

From vitamin A to zinc, various supplements have been touted to prevent heart disease, reduce risk of cancer and improve our libido. But reality and science tell us otherwise- it’s really best to get our nutrients from food and the risk for deficiency for most nutrients is quite rare. 1 This week we’ll focus on why some nutrients are mandatory and will stay on the nutrition facts label and why the time is up for others.

Since 1994 when the nutrition facts first appeared on the food label, the following vitamins and minerals have been mandatory on the label: vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and calcium. Other B vitamins and minerals may be included, but these are voluntary. Vitamins A and C were listed on the label for their role in reducing cancer and heart disease due to their antioxidant activity. Ironically, vitamin A is not really an antioxidant, but beta-carotene is.

However, how often do you hear of vitamin A or vitamin C deficiency in the US? With the variety of food available to us in the US and the number of products fortified with vitamins and minerals, the risk for vitamins A and C deficiency is quite rare. In 2016 when the new nutrition facts panel was proposed, vitamins A and C were shown the exit door. It’s not that these nutrients are no longer important. It’s just that the risk of an American diet being short on them, is unlikely.2

The minerals calcium and iron, on the other hand, are here to stay. Why? Iron deficiency is still the number one deficiency, particularly for women, worldwide. It is estimated that 25% of the world’s population is affected by anemia, of which 50% is iron-deficiency anemia. Requirements for iron increase during pregnancy and decline after menopause. Iron deficiency is also common in children as they tend to be fussy eaters and may shy away from meat and other iron-containing foods. Iron is an essential nutrient needed for brain development. Iron deficiency may impact learning ability, attention, focus and behavior. Children diagnosed with ADHD may have iron deficiency as a co-morbidity.3

The RDA for iron is as follows 4:

Age Male Female Pregnancy Lactation
Birth to 6 months 0.27 mg* 0.27 mg*
7–12 months 11 mg 11 mg
1–3 years 7 mg 7 mg
4–8 years 10 mg 10 mg
9–13 years 8 mg 8 mg
14–18 years 11 mg 15 mg 27 mg 10 mg
19–50 years 8 mg 18 mg 27 mg 9 mg
51+ years 8 mg 8 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Sources of iron include beef, liver, pork, poultry, seafood and egg yolks and fortified foods such as breads, cereals, rice and other grains. Dried fruit such as raisins and green leafy vegetables, beans and nuts also contain small amounts of iron.5

Calcium is known for its bone-building properties, and without it, osteoporosis could develop over time. Most people don’t obtain enough calcium in their diets, which is why it will stay on the new label. In addition, it’s important to obtain enough calcium because of its role with blood pressure. High calcium foods, particularly low-fat dairy products, are part of the DASH diet. Studies show that populations that consume adequate calcium, have lower rates of hypertension. In addition, studies show that a diet containing adequate calcium also helps reduce the risk for colorectal cancer. Because of these conditions, calcium will maintain its prominent place on the nutrition facts label. 5

The RDA for calcium is included here 5:

Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Calcium [1]
Age Male Female Pregnant Lactating
0–6 months* 200 mg 200 mg
7–12 months* 260 mg 260 mg
1–3 years 700 mg 700 mg
4–8 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
9–13 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
14–18 years 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg 1,300 mg
19–50 years 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg 1,000 mg
51–70 years 1,000 mg 1,200 mg
71+ years 1,200 mg 1,200 mg

* Adequate Intake (AI)

Calcium can be found easily in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt as well as fortified orange juice and cereal, tofu, green leafy vegetables like kale, Brussels sprouts and broccoli, oranges, almonds and plant-based milks such as soy, almond and coconut milk. 5

Encourage your clients to seek adequate amounts of these 2 vital nutrients in the foods they eat. Both are seriously important across the lifespan.


  3. Pivina L1,2Semenova Y1,2Do?a MD3Dauletyarova M4Bjørklund G5. Iron Deficiency, Cognitive Functions, and Neurobehavioral Disorders in Children J Mol Neurosci.2019 May;68(1):1-10. doi: 10.1007/s12031-019-01276-1

Submitted by Lisa Andrews, MEd, RD.

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