With valuable information on the food products that you eat every day, the Nutrition Facts label is a critical component in planning a healthy diet.

For anyone who has ever shopped for groceries, it provides invaluable information on the food you purchase, bring into your home and kitchen, and put on your family’s plate on a daily basis. Were talking about the Nutrition Facts label, the instantly recognizable box featured on most packaged goods, which enjoyed its 20th anniversary this year.

Rolled out by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Jan. 6, 1993, it delivered consistent, standardized nutrition information to consumers for the first time. Previously, manufacturers provided this type of information on a voluntary basis, but the Nutrition Facts label provided a standard method that enabled people to easily compare products and get their information in a straightforward way while eliminating the variability. At that time, the law required a number of things that remain to this day on the nutrition label, such as the number of calories, total fat and amount of saturated fat. But the FDA also mandated that the listing include many of the vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron and vitamins A and C that have become important elements of the label a directive that was based on the science at the time.

Increasing consumer use of the label is important, as several of the categories of nutrients provided can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases. When trans fats were added to the label in 2003 due to their link to heart disease, the resulting data gathered from the late 1990s to 2010 reported not only a drop in intake for adults from 4.6 grams to 1.3 grams per day, but the addition is actually credited with changing corporate behavior. Mandating that it be put on the label caused numerous companies to reformulate their products in order to reduce the amount of trans fats in them.

As current science evolves, the FDA is now actively working to determine what changes are needed to update the label in areas such as serving sizes and what nutrients should be listed. As part of the regulatory process, the FDA always requests feedback from the public on any changes it proposes. After all, the nutrition label is a tool designed to give people information they need to make good choices. And while it’s not necessarily going to change behavior, it gives people the knowledge to do just that.

Serving size: Everything on the label is based upon a single serving built around standardized amounts that make it easy to compare similar foods.

Amount of calories: If you want to manage your weight (lose, gain or maintain), check the amount of calories, which is listed on the left side. The key is to balance how many calories you eat with how many calories your body uses. The FDA uses 2,000 calories per day as its baseline for these percentages.

Limit these nutrients: Americans frequently eat too much of the nutrients listed first. According to the FDA, eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol or sodium may increase your risk of chronic diseases.

Get enough of these nutrients: While most Americans don’t get enough of these in their diet, adequate consumption can help reduce risks for several diseases and conditions.

Percent daily value: Instead of having to remember exact daily recommendations for each individual nutrient, consumers can use these percentages to provide a quick point of reference for the amount of nutrients provided by a single serving.

Footnote with daily values (DV): A reminder of how the calculations are derived, this footnote is always the same because it’s not product-specific; it provides overall dietary recommendations on consumption guidelines.

Dr. Claudine J. Kavanaugh, Ph.D, m.p.h., RD, is an interdisciplinary scientist focused on nutrition policy issues in the Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and has been with the FDA for 10 years. Her recent duties include updating the Nutrition Facts label, sodium reduction and restaurant menu labeling. Dr. Kavanaugh received her Ph.D. in nutrition from Purdue University, a masters in public health from Johns Hopkins University and is a registered dietitian.