Reading a Nutrition Label

01/31/2011 - Amy Eisenson

Nutrition Labels:

Know the facts…

Most packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label. Use this label to make smart food choices quickly and easily. Try these tips:

  • Keep these low: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Get enough of these: potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron.
  • Use the 5/20 rule. 5% DV or less is low, 20% DV or more is high


Check servings and calories. Look at the serving size and determine how many servings you are actually consuming. If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories and nutrients, including the % DVs. Most prepackaged foods consist of more than one serving.

Make your calories count. Look at the calories on the label, determine which nutrients you are getting along with those calories. When one serving of a single food item has over 400 calories, it is considered to be high in calories.

Don’t sugarcoat it. Since sugars contribute to calories with few, if any, nutrients look for foods and beverages low in added sugars. Read the ingredient list and make sure that added sugars are not one of the first few ingredients. Alternative names for added sugars (caloric sweeteners) include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, and fructose.

Know your fats. Look for foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol to help reduce the risk of heart disease (5% DV or less is low, 20% DV or more is high). Most of the fats you eat should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Keep total fat intake between 20% and 35% of calories.

Reduce sodium (salt), increase potassium. Research shows that eating less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (about 1 tsp of salt) per day may reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Most of the sodium people eat comes from processed foods, not from the salt shaker. Look for foods high in potassium which counteracts some of sodium’s effects on blood pressure.


Source: and the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy