Nutrition: How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label




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What is a Nutrition Facts Label?

The Nutrition Facts Label helps you determine the amount of calories and nutrients in one serving of food. Nutrients include fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, and minerals. This information helps you know whether you're eating a healthy, balanced diet.

The label, which is included on every packaged food product, lists the amount of:

  • Fat
  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Dietary fiber
  • Sugars
  • Protein
  • Vitamins and minerals

Here is an example:

What is a serving size?

Serving size is the first piece of information listed on the label. A serving size is the amount of food that is typically eaten in one serving. It is listed as a general household measurement, such as pieces, cups or ounces (for example, 7 potato chips or 1/2 cup of cereal).

Serving size is an important part of a healthy diet. Eating very large servings (or portions) can contribute to weight gain because as you eat larger portions, you eat more calories.

It’s important to compare the serving size listed on the container to the amount of that food that you normally eat. For example, the label may list a serving size as 7 potato chips or 1 ounce of cake. If you usually eat twice that amount, you are also eating twice the amount of calories and nutrients.

What is the Percent Daily Value?

A healthy person should consume a certain amount of fats, carbohydrates (especially fiber), protein, and vitamins and minerals each day. Certain ingredients, such as saturated fats and trans fats, are considered unhealthy and should only be eaten in very small amounts. The nutrition label provides a list of percentages (called the Percent Daily Value) that compares how much of a certain nutrient one serving of food contains to how much of that nutrient you should consume daily.

One serving of food with 5% or less of the daily value is considered low. One serving of a food with 20% or more of the daily value is considered high.

The Percent Daily Value is based on a daily diet of 2,000 calories. You will need to adjust the percentages if you eat more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For more information on calorie allowances, read our handout on determining calorie needs.

What ingredients should I limit in my diet?

  • Saturated fat. Saturated fat can increase your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol. The average adult should consume no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day.
  • Trans fat. Trans fat also increases your risk of heart disease. Ideally, you should get 0 grams of trans fat per day. When you read a nutrition label remember that companies are allowed to list the amount of trans fat as “0 grams” if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. This means that your food can contain some trans fat even if the nutrition label says “0 grams” per serving! Always check the ingredient list for trans fat, which may be listed as “hydrogenated vegetable oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Trans fat is usually found in commercially prepared baked goods, fried foods, snack foods and margarine.
  • Cholesterol. You should eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day (and less than 200 milligrams per day if you have heart disease). For more information see Cholesterol.

What ingredients should I get more of in my diet?

  • Fiber. Fiber helps your body digest the food you eat, and it can help lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. A food is considered high in fiber if it contains 5 grams of fiber or more per serving. Men 50 years of age and younger should get at least 38 grams of fiber per day, while women 50 years of age and younger should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day. Fiber is found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Look for the words “whole grain” on the package and ingredient list.
  • Vitamins and Minerals. The nutrition label lists vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. You should try to get more of these nutrients in your daily diet, as well as other vitamins and minerals that are not listed on the label. You can learn more about vitamins and minerals here.

Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 12/10
Created: 10/07

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