How to Evaluate Nutrition Facts Labels
Food items on supermarket shelves contain nutrition facts labels. Nutrition facts labels indicate what nutrients are in a specific food item. But why bother looking at nutrition facts labels? You can use them as a guide for making informed decisions about a healthy diet. Here are the parts of a nutrition facts label and how you can use it for your diet as well:
1. Serving Information
The first thing you will see on a nutrition facts label is the serving information, the number of servings contained in one package and the serving size. The serving size indicates the amount people usually eat or drink; it is not a recommendation. These serving sizes are also standardized to compare them with other similar food items. Pay close attention to the number of servings. For example, it can be easy to eat the whole package with several servings when nutritionally you only need one serving.
Calories indicate how much energy you’re getting from one serving of a food item. The amount of calories you can consume depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. For maintaining healthy body weight, balance the calories of your food and drink intake to what your body uses.
You can look at this part to guide you on what nutrients you want to add or limit in your diet. Here are tips:
- Saturated fat, sodium and added sugars are the nutrients you should limit because these are the nutrients linked to increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Difference between total sugars and added sugars? Total sugars are sugars naturally present in food and beverage products together with added sugars. Added sugars are the sugars added during the processing of foods (e.g., sucrose), sweeteners (e.g., table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey and sugar from fruits and vegetables.
- Dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are the nutrients you want to have in your diet. These nutrients promote good bowel movement, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels and reduce calorie intake. These nutrients can also reduce the risk of developing certain diseases like osteoporosis, anemia and hypertension.
4. Percent Daily Value
The percent daily value (%DV) shows how much a nutrient in a serving contributes to the total daily diet and also shows you if a serving contains low or high nutrients. As a general rule of thumb, <5% DV per serving is considered low. Aim for >20% DV for a high nutrient serving of food. But look for a higher %DV for dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium, and a lower %DV for saturated fat, sodium and added sugars. You can also use %DV to:
- Compare Foods – Look at higher %DV for nutrients you want to consume more and lower %DV for nutrients you want to consume less. Just be sure that you are comparing the same serving size.
- Understand Nutrient Content Claims – This is to help you distinguish “light,” “low” and “reduced” using %DV.
- Dietary Trade-Offs – You can use %DV as a guide to balancing your nutrient intake. Be sure that you do not go over the 100%DV for each nutrient to maintain a healthy diet.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration