How to Read the Nutrition Label

by Guest Writer

The Food and Drug Administration, Silver Spring, Maryland, has redesigned the familiar nutrition panel on food containers, but these products will not be in stores for several years.  The Agency is collecting comments concerning the proposed changes before making a final decision.  In the meantime, the Agency explains how to read the current label, using macaroni and cheese as an example.

1.  Serving Size

The first place to start is the Nutrition Facts label, which shows the serving size and number of servings in a package.

Example:  Serving size: 1 cup (228 grams)

Servings per container:  2

The size of the serving influences the number of  calories, and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label.

This serving of macaroni and cheese equals 1 cup.  If you ate the whole package, you would eat 2 cups.  That doubles the calories and other nutrients, including %Daily Value as shown on the label.

2.  Calories and Calories from Fat

Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of the food product.

Example:  Calories: 250

Calories from fat:  110

The calorie section can help you manage your weight (i.e, gain, lose, maintain)

As shown by the sample food, of the 250 calories, half (110) come from fat.  If you ate the whole package, you would consume 2 cups, or 500 calories, of which 220 would come from fat.

As a guide, 40 calories are low; 100 are moderate; and 400 are high.

3.  The Nutrients,  How Much?

The top of the Nutrient Section shows some of the ingredients.

Example: Total fat (12 grams (18%)

Saturated fat: 3 grams (15%)

Trans fats: 3 grams (try to avoid these)

Cholesterol: 30 milligrams (10%)

Sodium/salt: 470 milligrams (20%)

Eating too much of these nutrients may increase your risk of heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure, etc.

4.  Eat Enough of These

Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health.

Example: Dietary fat (o grams)

Vitamin A:  4%

Vitamin C:  2%

Calcium:  20%, etc.

5.  Understanding the Products at the Bottom of the Nutrient Facts Label

The statement after the heading %Daily Value refers to the lower part of the nutrient label, which tells you the %Daily Value based on a 2,000-calorie diet.  There may be a listing for a 2,500-calorie diet.

Example: Total fat:  Less than 65 grams

Saturated fat:  Less than 20 grams, etc.

The full information in the footnote may not be listed because the package is too small.

As an example of Daily Value versus %Daily Value, a 2,000-calorie diet has 65 grams of total fat, which is 100% of %DV, etc.

6.  The Percent Daily Value (%DV)

The %DVs are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients, but only for a 2,000-calorie diet

Example: 5% DVs are low and 20% DVs are high.

There is no Daily Value for sugar, since no recommendations have been given for sugars.  The sugars listed on the label include naturally occurring sugars.  Remember that if a word ends in “ose,” it is some form of sugar: maltose, fructose, etc.

The ingredients listing contains many unpronounceable names, and names of unfamiliar ingredients.  A dictionary will be needed to explain what they are.


“How to Read and Use the Nutrition Label,” Food & Drug Administration, Silver Spring, MD, 2004.

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