Reading the Food Label

Families, Food and Fitness November 18, 2009 Print Friendly and PDF

Food labels offer an abundance of information, yet many people do not take the time or do not understand how to read the labels on their food products. Examining the information on your food labels is the key to making healthy food choices. The Nutrition Facts panel offers information about the nutrients in the product and how these nutrients compare to the total amount you should have each day. It is usually found on the back or the side of the food package.

The first thing to look at on the Nutrition Facts panel is the serving size, which is located at the top of the panel. Everything else listed on the label is based on that amount of food. Be aware of how many servings are in the package, and compare this to how much you actually eat. Once you know this information, then look at the rest of the panel. It lists various nutrients and the amounts of each. Some of these nutrients should be plentiful in the diet — dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Others should be limited in the diet — total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.


Nutritional Label


Since it can be difficult to interpret how much you need of each nutrient when you are looking at grams and milligrams, the Percent Daily Value (%DV)is listed for each of the nutrients on the right-hand side of the panel. It puts everything on the same scale so that you can see how the food contributes to your overall daily nutrient allowance. For instance, if an item has 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving, the %DV tells you that the item supplies 8% of the carbohydrates you need each day. Try using the “5-20” guide for comparing nutrients in foods to see how the foods fit in your diet. If a food supplies 5% or less of the daily value, it is considered to be low in that nutrient. If a food supplies 20% or more of the daily value, it is high in the nutrient. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Being aware of what you are eating is the best way to be sure you are making healthy food choices. So the next time you grab something from the kitchen or make a trip to the grocery store, take the time to look at the labels on your food items. It’s quick and easy to do, and you may be surprised at what you find out about your favorite foods.

FOR MORE INFORMATION VIEW The Interactive Nutrition Facts Label


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.