Food & Nutrition
Understanding Nutrition Labels
Using Food Labels
Food packaging is required to list “nutrition facts” based on a 2,000 to 2,500 daily caloric intake, as well as common food allergens. Depending on your metabolism rate and activity level, you may need to consume fewer or more calories per day.
Understanding nutrition labels can help you manage your diet. Click through the slideshow to learn more about how to read nutrition labels to get the information you need.
At the top of the food facts label, you’ll find information about servings. Serving sizes are standardized on labels (for example, 1 cup), which makes it easier to compare foods that are similar.
However, it’s important to pay attention to number of servings in a package. Some packages may look like they’re meant to serve one person (such as snack-sized foods), but may contain multiple servings.
Also near the top of the food label, you’ll find the number of calories per serving in the package. Calories supply your body with energy. However, consuming more calories than your body needs can lead to adverse health risks, such as obesity and heart problems.
The FDA considers anything containing over 400 calories per serving to be "high." A food containing 100 calories is considered moderate, while a 40-calorie food is low-cal.
How Much Fat?
Food labels contain valuable information about the number of calories from fat that a food contains. You’ll find fat content on the label broken down by total fat, trans fat, and saturated fat.
According to the FDA, saturated fats and trans fats raise cholesterol in the blood, which can cause heart problems. However, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), unsaturated fats like those found in fish, nuts, and avocados, can improve your health.
Nutrients to Limit: Cholesterol and Salt
The FDA recommends limiting your cholesterol and sodium consumption. Eating too much of these nutrients can increase your risk for developing a number of serious chronic health conditions, including high blood pressure, heart disease, and even some types of cancer. The AHA also reports that the average American consumes more than twice as much sodium as needed for good health.
Add More of These: Fiber, Vitamins, and Minerals
The FDA reports that most Americans do not get enough fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. The vitamins listed as percentages at the bottom of the label—such as vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron—are those Americans typically need more of in their diets. Calcium, for example, may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and fiber may reduce the risk of heart disease, according to the FDA.
Curb Your Sweet Tooth
The nutrition label tells you about other nutrients as well, including sugars and carbohydrates. However, you may have to do some detective work to determine how much added sugar packaged food contains.
“Sugar” on the food label refers to both natural and added sugars in total grams. Each gram of sugar contains four calories. Therefore, if a product contains 15 grams of sugar per serving, 60 calories are from sugar.
What’s the % DV?
“% DV” on a food label stands for “percent of daily value.” This section tells you what percentage of a nutrient one serving contains. The percentage is based on the amount that’s recommended for consumption on a daily basis.
If you want to eat less of a certain nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), the AHA suggests that you choose foods with a lower % DV. Five percent or less is considered low.
When you know how to read and understand food labels, you can make healthier food choices for yourself and your family. Boost your label-reading skills to make informed dietary choices quickly and confidently.
Knowing how to make low-calorie and low-fat choices while increasing your intake of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, is well worth the effort.