How to Read a Label

Check out this handy chart for understanding nutrition labels. You can glance at our green Better Choice shelf tags for the bottom line. But it's a good idea to know how to interpret standard product nutrition labels, too.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has finalized a new Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods that will make it easier for you to make informed food choices that support a healthy diet. The updated label has a new design that reflects current scientific information, including the link between diet and chronic diseases.

The new label will make it easier to identify the amount of nutrients in a food. Manufacturers are in the process of transitioning to the new and improved Nutrition Facts label, so you will see both label versions for a while.

nutrition label

Area Description

Serving Size - Start here to check the serving size and number of servings per package. Serving size is shown in both household measures (such as cups) and metric amounts (grams). The nutrient information listed at the top of the nutrition label is per serving. Compare it to your actual portion: if your portion is twice the serving size, you're consuming twice the calories, fat, sodium, etc. listed on the label.

Calories and Calories from Fat - Calories tells us how much energy a food provides, while calories from fat tells us how much of that energy comes from fat. Control calorie intake to manage weight: if you consume more calories than you expend you will gain weight. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 20-35% of your total calories should come from fat.

List of Nutrients - These are the nutrients that have the greatest impact on health. They can be divided into two groups; those that need to be limited and those that you need to get enough of. Most Americans need to limit their total fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Too much fat and cholesterol, especially saturated fat and trans fat, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease; excess sodium can increase the risk of high blood pressure. In contrast, most people don't consume enough fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, or iron, putting them at risk for other health conditions such as osteoporosis.

Percent Daily Values (%DV) - This helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient (based on 2,000 calories a day). A DV of 5% is low, while 20% is high. Aim low for nutrients like fat, sodium; and high for vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Footnote for Daily Values - This is a reference chart listing the Daily Values (DV) or recommended daily intakes for healthy people. The DVs in the chart are based on an intake of 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day. Note that some of the Daily Values listed are maximums (such as fat, saturated fat and cholesterol). Some nutrients do not have a DV established (like sugar and trans fat) because health experts have yet to set one. Individuals should adjust the daily values to fit their own calorie intake, as you may need less or more than 2,000 calories per day.

Calories per gram - The three nutrients that provide our bodies with calories (energy) are carbohydrates, fat, and protein. This tells you how many calories per gram the 3 energy nutrients provide. Notice that per gram, fat provides twice the number of calories as protein or carbohydrate.

This label is only a sample. Exact specifications are in the final rules.
Source: Food and Drug Administration 1993