How To Read A Food Label

Start here. Note the size of a single serving and how many servings are in the package.

Check total calories per serving. Look at the serving size and how many servings you’re really consuming. If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories and nutrients, including the Percent Daily Value (% DV).

Limit these nutrients. Remember, you need to limit your total fat to no more than 56–78 grams a day — including no more than 16 grams of saturated fat, less than two grams of trans fat, and less than 300 mg cholesterol (for a 2,000 calorie diet).

Get enough of these nutrients. Make sure you get 100 percent of the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day.

Quick guide to % DV. The % DV section tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV — 5 percent or less is low. If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), seek foods with a higher % DV — 20 percent or more is high.

Here are more tips for getting as much health information as possible from the Nutrition Facts label:

  • Remember that the information shown in these panels is based on 2,000 calories a day. You may need to consume less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight. Find out your personal daily limits on My Fats Translator.
  • In general, as you think about the amount of calories in a food per serving, remember that for a 2,000-calorie diet:
    • 40 calories per serving is considered low;
    • 100 calories per serving is considered moderate; and
    • 400 calories or more per serving is considered high.
  • There is no % DV shown for trans fat on the panel because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have enough scientific information to set this value. We recommend eating less than 20 calories or (less than two grams of trans fat) a day – that’s less than 1 percent of your total daily calories (for a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet).
  • When the Nutrition Facts panel says the food contains “0 g” of trans fat, it means the food contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
  • When the Nutrition Facts label says a food contains “0 g” of trans fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. So, if you eat more than one serving, you could quickly reach your daily limit of trans fat.

In addition to the Nutrition Facts label, a lot of foods today also come with nutrient content claims provided by the manufacturer. These claims are typically featured in ads for the foods or in the promotional copy on the food packages themselves. They are strictly defined by the FDA. The chart below provides some of the most commonly used nutrient content claims, along with a detailed description of what the claim means.

 

Understanding the Footnote on the Bottom of the Nutrition Facts Label

Foootnote section of label, indicating values for 2000 and 2500 calorie diets highlighting the statement: * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Look at the amounts circled in red in the footnote–these are the Daily Values (DV) for each nutrient listed and are based on public health experts’ advice. DVs are recommended levels of intakes. DVs in the footnote are based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. Note how the DVs for some nutrients change, while others (for cholesterol and sodium) remain the same for both calorie amounts.

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