Diet and Exercise Tips

LABEL Reading 101

Last updated Mar 10, 2009
Reading food labels is essential to help you make smart food choices.  Nutrition information is usually included in a label on packaged foods entitled Nutrition Facts.  Exempt from labeling are: very small packages, foods prepared in the store and foods made by small manufacturers.
What's in a label?
  • serving size
  • calories per serving
  • amount of various nutrients such as total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and fiber per serving
  • list of ingredients in descending order by weight
  • daily values (DVs) for 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets
Serving Size section of label.
This is the first thing you should be looking at on a label because it will help you determine what is an appropriate amount to eat as well as give you a guideline for the information that follows.  In other words, if you were to consume 2 cups of the product above, you would be consuming 2 servings, and you will have consumed double the amount of all of the following listed nutrients.
Calories from Fat section of label, also showing total calories.
This is a key section for weight management. If you know how many calories you should be consuming per day (for your age, sex, weight and activity level - see estimated calorie requirements). Remember to first estimate the number of servings you consumed in order to come up with an accurate amount of calories consumed.  For example, this product contains 250 calories per serving, and a serving consists of 1 cup.  Therefore, if you eat 2 cups, you are actually consuming 500 calories!  Pretty simple, right?
Use this part of the food label to help you food choices.  Choose foods that are high in the nutrients that you should include and low in the nutrients you should avoid.
Which ones to limit?
Label section showing Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium, with quantities and % daily values.
Eating too much of these nutrients will increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
* Trans fat per day should be as close to ZERO as possible
Which ones are good for you?
Label sections showing Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron, with % daily values and quantity of dietary fiber.
Getting enough of these nutrients will help lower your risk of chronic diseases.
Foootnote section of label, indicating values for 2000 and 2500 calorie diets highlighting the statement: * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
This yellow portion of this section of the food label is on all food labels, but the white portion that follows only appears when space allows.  This footnote is standard - and the values are the same anytime it appears on a label. That's because these values represent the amounts the amounts of these nutrients that should be eaten in reference 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets ... based on the advice of a US public health expert.
* This section does not represent what the package of food actually contains. It is advice to help you guide your choices.
** Remember, these values may be lower if your daily ntake is less than 2,000 calories.
Nutrients with %DVs section of the label.
These values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and are provided as a frame of reference about whether a food is high or low in a
As a quick and easy guide:
5% DV or less is low
20% DV or more is high
Apply this guide to nutrients you want to limit and those you want to increase.
You will notice that there are no reference values for trans fats, protein, and sugars.  
This is because:
 - you should be consuming as little as possible trans fat
 - protein intake is not a public health concern in the US for adults and children over 4 years of age
- no recommendations been made for the total amount of sugar to eat in a day
Ingredients: Cultured grade A reduced fat milk, apples, high fructose corn syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, natural flavors, and pectin. Contains active yogurt and L. acidophilus cultures. (High Fructose Corn Syrup is highlighted.)
If you are concerned about your sugar intake, it is important that you check the ingredients list on the bottom of the label to make sure that sugars (disguised under different names) are not present as one of the first ingredients.  
Words to look out for:
  • corn syrup
  • high-fructose corn syrup
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • maltose
  • dextrose
  • sucrose
  • honey
  • maple syrup

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