Ever wonder how to read a nutrition facts label and put it to use? Here’s a basic overview.
1. Check the Serving Size
- The nutrition facts label will display the serving size, which is how much someone generally should eat in one sitting. The label will also show how many servings there are in the package.
- The rest of the information presented on the nutrition facts label has been calculated according to this stated serving size. That means that if the serving size is 2 cups but you choose to have 4 cups, you will need to double the fat, calories, and all other nutrients presented on the label to see how much you are getting.
2. Compare the Calories in a Serving to Your Needs
- You can use the nutrition facts label to determine the number of calories in one serving and compare that number to your calorie allowance. The average number of calories a person needs per day is 2,000, but this number can vary a great deal from person to person based on their height, weight, sex, activity level, and other factors.
3. Use Percent Daily Values as a Guide
- The percent daily value (DV) can help you gauge how well a certain food item will work within your daily diet. These percentages are calculated based on a 2,000-calorie day. For example, if a food item lists its fat content as 4% DV, that means one serving of it contains 4% of the total fat that someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day needs each day.
- A low DV is considered to be 5% or less. Look for a low DV when reviewing trans fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol.
- A high DV is considered to be 20% or more. Look for a high DV when reviewing vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
4. Learn Nutrition Terms
- Low-Calorie: Contains 40 calories or fewer in each serving
- Good Source of: Contributes at least 10% to 19% of the daily value of a specific vitamin or nutrient in one serving
- Reduced: Contains a minimum of 25% less of the specified nutrient or calories compared to the typical product
- Low-Cholesterol: Does not contain more than 20 milligrams of cholesterol or more than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving
- Calorie-Free: Contains fewer than 5 calories in each serving
- Excellent Source of: Offers a serving size that provides at least 20% of the daily value of a specific vitamin or nutrient
- High in: Provides 20% or more of the daily value of a specified nutrient in each serving
- Low-Sodium: Contains 140 milligrams or less of sodium in each serving
- Fat-Free/Sugar-Free: Contains less than 0.5 grams of fat/sugar per serving
5. Look for Foods Low in Sodium, Added Sugars, and Saturated Fat
- Reducing the intake of saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium can potentially decrease the risk of chronic disease.
- Saturated fat and trans fat are associated with a higher likelihood of developing heart disease.
- Excessive amounts of added sugars can make it hard to reach your nutrient requirements while staying within calorie limits.
- High sodium levels can lead to high blood pressure.
- It’s important to strive for a low percentage of DV for these components.
6. Choose Foods High in Vitamins, Minerals, and Dietary Fiber
- Eating more foods high in vitamin D, potassium, dietary fiber, iron, and calcium can help you stay in good health and reduces your chance of developing health problems like anemia or osteoporosis.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables, as they are high in these nutrients.
- Look for other foods that contain a high percentage of DV of these nutrients.
7. Review the Additional Nutrients
Calories are not the only aspect of the nutrition facts label you should be aware of. It’s essential to also understand the additional nutrients present on the label.
- Protein: Nutrition facts labels aren’t required to list a percentage daily value for protein. You can ensure that you’re getting enough protein by choosing moderately sized portions of lean meats, eggs, fish, poultry, lowfat dairy products (such as cheese, milk, and yogurt), legumes, seeds, soy products, and nuts.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates can be classified into three types: sugars, starches, and fiber. Incorporate fruits, vegetables, pasta, rice, cereals, and whole-grain breads into your diet to receive enough carbohydrates.
- Sugars: Simple carbohydrates, also known as sugars, naturally occur in foods like fruits (fructose) and dairy products (lactose), or they can be derived from refined sources like sugar or corn syrup. The Nutrition Facts label includes information on added sugars. Guidelines recommend that children under age 2 avoid foods and beverages with added sugars, while individuals ages 2 and older should limit their intake of added sugars to no more than 10% of daily calories.
Foods containing multiple ingredients are required to include an ingredient list on the label. The ingredients are listed in descending order based on their respective weights, meaning that those present in the largest quantities are listed first. The information found here is especially beneficial for individuals with food sensitivities or allergies or those who adhere to specific dietary restrictions based on their personal beliefs.
Additional Nutrition Resources
- USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans
- Healthy Eating for a Healthy Weight
- Healthy Eating Plate
- Healthy Eating Basics
- The Definitive Guide to Healthy Eating in Real Life
- Ingredients in Pre-Workout Supplements
- Eight Tips for Healthy Eating
- Top Ten Foods for Health
- How to Follow a Heart-Healthy Diet
- Healthy Food Choices for Your Family
- Eating Well for Mental Health