Food Labels

How to Read a Food Label

To read a food label, check the Nutrition Facts panel. On this panel, manufacturers are required to express nutrient amounts in a reasonable, standardized serving size defined for each type of food. This makes it easier to compare similar foods and decide which ones are best for your eating plan. The Nutrition Facts panel also lists the number of servings per container, number of calories, calories from fat, and grams of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber, sugar, and protein in a standard serving of the food. Keep in mind that the nutrition information is based on one serving, so if you eat half a serving, all the nutritional values listed need to be cut in half. If a product contains four servings and you eat all of it, then the calories, fat and other nutrients need to be multiplied by four.

Trans fat is the latest addition to the Nutrition Facts panel. However, the labeling laws allow for some rounding of nutritional values, and in the case of trans fat, if the food contains less than 0.5 g of trans fat, it can be rounded to 0 g. This becomes tricky if you are trying to limit your intake of trans fat. For example, if you had three servings of a food labeled as 0 g trans fat, but it actually contained 0.3 g, you'd be eating almost 1 g of trans fat. If you're aiming for less than 2 g of trans fat a day, you'd be halfway to the limit, and that's only from one food!

For total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, as well as any other vitamins or minerals listed, the label also gives a "% Daily Value." The Daily Value refers to the amount of a nutrient that is recommended for a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day. Near the bottom of the label, you'll find the recommended grams for some of these nutrients for a 2,000- and 2,500-calorie diet.

Look at the Nutrition Facts label below. On a 2,000-calorie diet, the Daily Value for total fat is less than 65 g, which is slightly under 30 percent of total calories. If a label lists 13 g of fat per serving, it is equal to 20 percent of the Daily Value. To get 20 percent of your entire Daily Value of fat from one food makes this a high-fat food. Now that you know this information, you have two choices: You can eat the food and limit fat in your other food choices throughout the whole day, or you can choose another food with a lower Daily Value of fat. Even if you eat more or less than 2,000 calories each day, the percent Daily Value is a helpful guide because it allows you to compare the nutritional value of food products, evaluate whether a food has too much or too little of a particular nutrient, and determine how well it fits into your overall diet.

Another way to tell if a food has certain health properties is to check for Food and Drug Administration-approved health claims on the label. To find out what these claims mean and why some foods are qualified to carry them, see the next page.

For more information about nutritious eating, see:

  • Eating Healthy: A balanced diet that includes a variety of foods is great for maintaining good health. Find out which food choices work best in a healthy eating plan.
  • Different Types of Fat: Dietary fat can come in a variety of forms which have different effects on the body. Learn the difference between saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats -- and which are the best dietary choices.
  • Estimating Your Calorie Intake: One of the most important tools for weight loss is to monitor your calorie intake. Find out how to estimate the calories you eat over the course of the day.
  • Weight Loss: For many people, weight loss is an important goal. Explore the different methods of losing weight, and see which can work for you.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.