Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition
Presented by MuscleMaster.com
Guidance on How to Understand
and Use the Nutrition Facts Panel on Food Labels
People look at food labels
for different reasons. But whatever the reason, many consumers
would like to know how to use this information more effectively and
easily. The following guidance is intended to make it easier for
you to use nutrition labels to make quick, informed food choices
that contribute to a healthy diet.
Nutrition Facts panel has two parts:
The main or top section (see #1-5 on the sample nutrition label
below), which contains product-specific information (serving size,
calories, and nutrient information) that varies with each food
product; and the bottom part (see #6 on the sample nutrition label
below), which contains a footnote. This footnote is only on larger
packages and provides general dietary information about important
||Sample Label for Macaroni & Cheese
||(#1 on sample label):
The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts
panel is the serving size and the number of servings in the
package. Serving sizes are provided in familiar units, such as cups
or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., the number of
grams. Serving sizes are based on the amount of food people
typically eat, which makes them realistic and easy to compare to
Pay attention to the serving size, including how many
servings there are in the food package, and compare it to how much
YOU actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package
influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the
label. In the sample label above, one serving of macaroni and
cheese equals one cup. If you ate the whole package, you would eat
two cups. That doubles the calories and other nutrient
numbers, including the %Daily Values as shown below (see Calories
and %Daily Value for more information).
||1 cup (228g)
||2 cups (456g)
|Calories from Fat
Calories and Calories from Fat
|(#2 on sample label):
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a
serving of this food. The label also tells you how many of the
calories in one serving come from fat. In the example, there are
250 calories in a serving of this macaroni and cheese. How many
calories from fat are there in ONE serving? Answer: 110
calories, which means almost half come from fat. What if you ate
the whole package content? Then, you would consume two servings, or
500 calories, and 220 would come from fat.
(#3 and 4 on sample label):
Look at the top section in the sample nutrition label. It shows
nutrients that are important for your health and separates them
into two main groups:
|(#3 on sample label):
The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in
adequate amounts, or even too much. They are identified in yellow
on the chart as Limit these Nutrients. Eating too much fat
or too much sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic
diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
Eating too many calories is linked to overweight and obesity.
Enough of These
|(#4 on sample label):
Americans often don't get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin
C, calcium, and iron in their diets. They are identified in blue on
the chart as Get Enough of these Nutrients. Eating enough of
these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of
some diseases and conditions. For example, getting enough calcium
can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, in which bones become brittle
and break as one ages (see calcium example below).
Remember: You can not only use the food label to help limit
those nutrients you want to cut back on, but also to increase those
nutrients you want to consume in greater amounts.
The Percent Daily Value
This part of the Nutrition Facts panel tells you whether the
nutrients (fat, sodium, fiber, etc) in a serving of food contribute
a lot or a little to your total daily diet. By diet we mean all the
different foods you eat in a day.
%DVs are based on recommendations for
a 2,000 calorie diet. For labeling purposes, FDA set 2,000
calories as the reference amount for calculating %DVs. The %DV
shows you the percent (or how much) of the recommended daily amount
of a nutrient is in a serving of food. By using the %DV, you can
tell if this amount is high or low. You, like most people, may not
know how many calories you consume in a day. But you can still use
the %DV as a frame of reference, whether or not you eat more or
less than 2,000 calories each day.
It's not hard to follow nutrition experts' advice for a healthy
diet. Try to limit your total daily intake of fat, saturated fat,
sodium, and cholesterol (shown in yellow on the chart) to
less than 100%DV.
Likewise, you should try to get enough essential nutrients like
calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C as well as other components
such as dietary fiber (shown in blue on the chart). Try to average
100% for each one of these nutrients each day.
%DVs are easy to use.
Do you need to know how to calculate percentages to follow this
advice? No, the label (the %DV) does the math for you. It helps you
interpret the numbers (grams and milligrams) by putting them all on
the same scale (0-100%DV), much like a ruler. This way you can tell
high from low and know which nutrients contribute a lot, or a
little, to your daily recommended allowance (upper or lower).
Example of %DV for Total Fat: If you cover up the %DVs on
the sample label, can you tell if 12g of Total Fat is high or low?
Another way of asking this question is, does one serving
(containing 12g of fat) contribute a lot or a little Total Fat to
your daily diet?
Now look at the %DVs on the label
example: 12g fat equals 18%DV. When one serving of macaroni and
cheese contains 18%DV for Total Fat, that means you have 82% of
your fat allowance left for all the other foods you eat that day
Quick Guide to %DV
(#5 on sample label):
This general guide tells you that 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV
or more is high. This means that 5%DV or less is low for
all nutrients, those you want to limit (e.g., fat, saturated fat,
cholesterol, and sodium), and those that you want to consume in
greater amounts (fiber, calcium, etc). As the Quick
Guide shows, 20%DV or more is high for all
Example: Look again at the amount of Total Fat in one
serving listed on the sample nutrition label for macaroni and
cheese. Is 18%DV contributing a lot or a little to your maximum fat
limit of 100% DV? Check the Quick Guide to %DV. You see that
18%DV, which is below 20%DV, is not yet high, but what if you ate
the whole package (two servings)? You would double that amount,
eating 36% of your daily allowance for Total Fat. That amount,
coming from just one food, would contribute a lot of fat to your
daily diet. It would leave you 64% of your fat allowance
(100%-36%=64%) for all of the other foods you eat that day,
snacks and drinks included.
Comparisons: The %DV also makes it
easy for you to make comparisons. You can compare one product or
brand to a similar product. It's easy to see which one is higher or
lower in a nutrient because the serving sizes are generally
consistent for similar types of foods. See comparison example
Nutrient Content Claims: You can
quickly distinguish one claim from another, such as "reduced fat"
vs. "light" or "nonfat." Just compare the %DVs for Total Fat in
each food product to see which one is higher or lower in that
nutrient--there is no need to memorize definitions. This
works when comparing all nutrient content claims, e.g., less,
light, low, free, more, high, etc. See comparison example #1
Dietary Trade-Offs: You can use
the %DV to help you make dietary trade-offs with other foods
throughout the day. You don't have to give up a favorite food to
eat a healthy diet. When a food you like is high in fat, balance it
with foods that are low in fat at other times of the day. Also, pay
attention to how much you eat so that the total amount of fat for
the day stays below 100%DV.
Sugars and Protein: Note that
neither Sugars nor Protein lists a %DV on the Nutrition Facts
Sugars: No daily reference value has been established
because no recommendations have been made for the total amount of
sugars to eat in a day. Keep in mind, the sugars listed on the
Nutrition Facts panel include naturally occurring sugars (like
those in fruit and milk) as well as those added to a food or drink.
Check the ingredient list for specifics on added sugars.
Protein: A %DV is required to be listed if a claim is made
for protein, such as "high in protein". Otherwise, unless the food
is meant for use by infants and children under 4 years old, none is
needed. Current scientific evidence indicates that protein intake
is not a public health concern for adults and children over 4 years
Calcium: Experts advise consumers
to consume adequate amounts of calcium in their daily diet. This
advice is given in milligrams (mg), but the Nutrition Facts panel
only lists a %DV for calcium. For consumers to know how the calcium
they consume relates to expert advice, they need to do some simple
math. (This applies to calcium only).
Example: Experts advise adolescents, especially girls, to
consume 1,300mg and post-menopausal women 1,200mg of calcium daily.
To find the %DV that corresponds with 1,300mg and 1,200mg, just
divide the number of mg by 10. (The DV for calcium on food labels
is 1,000mg). When converted to a percent, this gives a factor of
10. Thus, the daily target for teenage girls, 1,300mg , equals
130%DV, and the daily target for post menopausal women, 1,200mg,
If you want to convert the %DV for calcium into milligrams, just
multiply by 10. A container of yogurt might list 30%DV for calcium.
To convert this to milligrams, multiply by 10, which equals 300mg
of calcium for the yogurt.
|30% DV = 300mg calcium = one cup of milk
|100% DV = 1,000mg calcium
|130% DV = 1,300mg calcium
The important thing is to look at the %DV for calcium on the food
package so you know how much one serving contributes to the
total amount you need. Remember, a food with 20%DV or more
contributes a lot of calcium to your daily total, while one with
5%DV or less contributes a little.
The Footnote, or lower
of the Nutrition Facts Panel
(#6 on sample label)
Note the * used after the heading "%Daily Value" on the Nutrition
Facts panel. It refers to the Footnote in the lower part of the
nutrition label, which tells you that "%DVs are based on
recommendations for a 2,000 calorie diet". This statement must
be on all food labels. But the remaining information in the full
footnote may not be on the package if the size of the label is too
small. When the full footnote does appear, it will always be the
same. It doesn't change from product to product, because it shows
dietary advice for all Americans--it is not about a specific food
The Daily Values are based on expert dietary advice about
how much, or how little, of some key nutrients you should eat each
day, depending on whether you eat 2,000 or 2,500 calories a
Example: look at the Total Fat
information in the footnote. It tells you that if you eat a 2,000
calorie diet, you should eat less than 65g of fat in all
the foods you eat in a day. By doing this, you will follow
nutrition experts' advice to consume no more than 30 percent of
your daily calories from fat. Because the DV for total fat is "less
than 65g," this is the same thing as saying, to keep your total fat
intake for the day below 100%DV.
If you consume 2,500 calories per day, the Footnote shows you how
your daily values would change for some nutrients but not for
others. The Daily Values for Cholesterol (300mg) and Sodium
(2,400mg sodium) remain the same no matter how many calories you
eat. But recommended levels of intake for other nutrients do depend
on how many calories you consume.
Remember: %DVs listed on the top half of the food label are
based on recommendations for a 2,000 calorie diet, not a 2,500
|Below are two kinds of milk- one is "Reduced Fat,"
the other is chocolate "Nonfat" milk. Each serving size is one cup.
Which has more calories? Which is higher in fat and saturated
|REDUCED FAT MILK
|CHOCOLATE NONFAT MILK
Visitor Reviews Of This Article!
Read Visitor Reviews - Write Your Own Review