The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label

Know how to read and understand your food. A quick guide to reading the Nutrition Facts Panel.


Written By: Yori Martinez, Dietetics and Nutrition Student, KU Pembroke Pines campus

Sample Nutrition Facts Panel

Start with the Serving Size

  • Look here for both the serving size (the amount for one serving) and the number of servings in the package. This is crucial when managing your nutrition.

  • Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the label. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label. Start by measuring until you train your eye and are able to have a visual scale.

Check Out the Total Calories and Fat

  • Find out how many calories are in a single serving and the number of calories from fat. It’s smart to cut back on calories and fat if you are watching your weight. Consider your nutritional goal!

Let the Percent Daily Values Be Your Guide

Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for the average person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV of fat provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat.

  • Percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack

  • You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day based on your level of activity and lifestyle. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent DV. Please keep in mind any medical condition and/or presence of diseases that may apply to you.

The High and Low of Daily Values

  • 5 percent or less is low. Aim low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium (these are not friendly)

  • 20 percent or more is high. Aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber (your best friends)

Limit Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium

Eating less fat, cholesterol and sodium may help reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

  • Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, so be on the lookout for these.

  • High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure, quick tip is compare the total calorie vs. sodium amount; you want as close of a ratio as possible. A food item of 150 calories with 650 mg of sodium is not an ideal ratio.

  • Remember to aim for low percentage DV of these nutrients.

  • Keep in mind the calories per servings and the mentioned items above when reading a food label.

Get Enough Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber

  • Eat more fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron (and other nutrients) to maintain overall good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems such as osteoporosis and anemia.

  • Choose more fruits and vegetables to get more of these nutrients. Think “back to basics”

  • Remember to aim high for percentage DV of these nutrients.

Additional Must Have Nutrients

You know about fat and calories, but it is important to also know the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts Panel. In my opinion it is essential to look at, consider, and then consume!

  • Protein: Most Americans eat more protein than they need, so a percentage Daily Value is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans, peanut butter and nuts. This does not mean protein amount is not disclosed if the food item has protein and the type of protein must be disclosed under the ingredient list.

  • Carbohydrates: There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables.

  • Sugars: Simple carbohydrates or sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup. In my opinion, all juice should be natural and fresh. The best investment would be a juicer;  there’s no space for juice on my grocery list.

A good rule of thumb: If you cannot pronounce it you should probably not eat it!

Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredients list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight within the food item. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is particularly helpful to individuals with food sensitivities, those who wish to avoid pork or shellfish or limit added sugars, or people who prefer vegetarian eating and with allergic reactions to specifics ingredients. You do not have to be a scientist to know what is in your food. This list should be short and easy to understand. Chances are complicated words stand for artificial additives and preservatives.

Reading is a skill, now know what you are feeding your body and understand what that is!


Reference: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


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