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What Food Labels Tell You

Nutrition labels can help you follow a healthy diet. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has updated the Nutrition Facts label for packaged foods. Start at the beginning of the label. That’s where you’ll find key information on portion sizes and calories per serving, which are important for making smart food choices.

Servings

One package is not always the same as one serving. The label shows the serving size and the number of servings in the package. You might think a package contains a single serving, but it might really contain two or more servings.

Calories

Calories are a measure of how much energy you get from a food serving. If you eat two times the serving size, you take in two times the calories and nutrients. Many people take in more calories than they need. Eating too many calories per day is linked to overweight and obesity.

Wait 10 minutes before going back for a second helping. You might not want it after all.

Nutrients

Nutrients are the substances in food that our bodies process to help them function. The label lists several nutrients that can have an impact on your health. Eating too much of some nutrients can lead to health problems.

The nutrients listed first are the ones people generally eat enough of, or even too much. Health experts recommend that you limit these nutrients. Limit your fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium intake. Eating too much of these may increase your risk of certain diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.

Dietary fiber, protein, essential vitamins, and minerals (like calcium, iron, and potassium) can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. For example, getting enough calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that can lead to brittle bones as you age. A diet high in dietary fiber (including fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products) and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

% Daily Value (DV)

The % DV tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. If you want to take in less of a nutrient such as fat or sodium, choose foods with a lower % DV—5 percent or less. If you want to take in more of a nutrient such as fiber, pick foods with a higher % DV—20 percent or more.

The information on a Nutrition Facts label is based on 2,000 calories a day. You may need to eat less or more than 2,000 calories depending on your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain, or maintain your weight.

More For You

The recommended serving size for foods you eat might surprise you. Stick to these amounts to balance your diet.
Healthy weight loss starts with a healthy diet. Find out how to eat to lose weight and understand how exercise plays a role.
Do you have trouble finding enough time to exercise? Try breaking up your workouts into a few 10-minute sessions each day.
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