Nutrition labels are an excellent resource to help you make healthier choices when choosing packaged foods. There are several sections you should pay attention to so you can make sure you are getting the most out of the items you choose.

In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration changed the nutrition label so that the “Calories”, “Servings per Container” and the “Serving Size” stood out more. The serving size is based on the amount of food that is typically eaten in one sitting. Pay attention to serving sizes – especially how many servings there are in a full package. If you eat two or three times the recommended serving size, note that you are consuming two or three times the calories and other nutrients as well. The “Calories” field indicates how much energy you get from a serving of food. This section of the label can help you manage your weight, whether you are trying to gain, lose, or maintain.

The nutrients included are listed with a “% Daily Value” to the right. The Daily Value column is based on recommendations of how much of each key nutrients you should be eating on a daily basis. The nutrients listed first (Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium) are ones you should limit. Nutrients listed below the second black bar (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron) are ones you should make sure to get enough of.

The footnote with %Daily Values is standard across all nutrition labels and indicates that the values are based on a 2,000 daily diet. Your personal Daily Values might be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs since that varies by age, gender, height, weight, and physical activity level.

Learning to read a nutrition label is a good way to compare products and make sure you are making the healthiest choices for you.

Don’t forget the Ingredients List!

The ingredients list shows each ingredient in a packaged item, listed in descending order by weight. For example, if the ingredient listed first is “whole oats”, then that is the primary ingredient of the item.

Use the list to avoid foods and beverages that are sources of nutrients you want less of.

Examples include:

  • Shortening (saturated fat)
  • Partially Hydrogenated oils (trans fat)
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup (added sugars)

Sources: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, American Heart Association. Lifework Strategies, Adventist HealthCare. The Health Tip of the Week is for educational purposes only.  For additional information, consult your physician. Please feel free to copy and distribute this health resource.