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How to Understand Food Labels


Updated February 15, 2014

How to Understand Food Labels

Food Label Nutrients Example

Source: FDA.gov


The following items are indicated on all food labels:


Percent Daily Value

Sometimes referred to is DV, the Percent Daily Value displays the amount of nutrients found in each serving of the food such as calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium and vitamins. These values are set by the Food and Drug Administration.

For example, a food that has 13g of fat per serving would state a 20 percent daily value on the label (Daily Values).


Calories and Percent Fat Calories

The calories in a serving are displayed directly under the portion sizes. The number of calories you actually take in is determined by the number of servings you eat.

The FDA considers a food with 40 calories or less per serving to be low calorie; 100 calories per serving, moderate; and 400 calories or more per servings is a high calorie food (How to Understand).

The food label assumes that the typical adult needs 2,000 calories a day to maintain his/her weight. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, with men requiring more daily calories than women to maintain their weight.

It is recommended that your diet provides no more than 30 percent of total calories from fat (Choose a Diet). For a 2,000 calorie diet, no more than 600 calories of your day’s food intake should comprise of fat.



A food’s fat and saturated fat content is displayed next. Starting in 2003, the FDA added trans fat to the label and it became required in 2006. Some manufacturers also include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats on labels.

Fat is listed in grams. Too much fat leads to overweight and obesity, however our bodies need some fat in order to function. For a 2,000 calorie diet, it means eating no more than 65 grams of fat each day.

Saturated and trans fat are known as “bad fats” because they raise cholesterol and can lead to health risks such as heart disease.

Unsaturated fat is a “good fat” that is healthy because it will not raise your cholesterol level. An example of a good fat is olive oil.



Cholesterol is listed under fats. It is a fatty substance found in animal products such as meat and dairy products. Cholesterol is a major factor in the risk of heart disease and heart attack. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit your average daily cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams (Limiting Fats).



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