Reading Nutrition Facts Labels

Nutrition Facts labels can help us choose healthier foods, but only if we know what to look for! Here are a few tips to keep in mind when checking nutrition labels.

First, look at the serving size. All the other information on the nutrition label applies to the serving size, but your portion size (the amount you actually eat) may be bigger or smaller than the serving size listed on the label. So, if the serving size is ½ cup but you ate 1 cup, then remember to double the amount of calories and other nutrients.

Percent Daily Values (%DV) tell you how much of a certain nutrient you will get from the product. If the label says “10% Total Fat,” this means one serving of the food is 10% of all the fat you should be eating each day. However, Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. This means that you might need more or less than 100% of the nutrients listed on the label each day. 

In general, aim for a low percent Daily Value (5% or less) of 

  • Saturated fat
  • Trans fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Added sugars 

Aim for a high percent Daily Value (20% or more) of 

  • Vitamins
  • Minerals (like potassium, calcium, and iron)
  • Fiber

It’s also helpful to remember that the ingredients on the bottom of a food label are listed in order of most to least.  So if you want to know what’s in your food, the products at the beginning of the ingredients list are the ones you should look at most closely. 

Resources:

Eatright.org , FDA & Heart.org


© 2020 North Carolina Cooperative Extension
Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP)

North Carolina State University
Agricultural and Human Sciences Department

Cooperative Extension at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (CAES)