Nutrition labels provide information about what is in the food you are buying. They can help you make good decisions and pick foods that meet your dietary needs. All food labels contain the same type of information. They describe:
- Serving size
- Nutrients, which include:
- sodium (salt)
- carbohydrates (fiber and sugars)
- Vitamins (like vitamin C) and minerals (like iron)
The serving size is important. It tells you how much of the food is typically eaten as a single meal or snack. All of the rest of the information on the label refers to that serving size. For example, let’s say a snack bag of pretzels contains 2 servings and each serving has 100 calories. But you usually eat the whole bag. You will be eating 200 calories of pretzels (2 servings X 100 calories). So, if you usually eat a double serving, you need to double the numbers of calories and nutrients that are listed on the label.
Watching your calories is an important way to help you stay at a healthy weight. The right number of calories you need to stay the same weight or to lose weight is different for each person. It depends on your age, height, weight, and how physically active you are. Two things to remember about calories:
- Eating too many calories can lead to overweight and obesity
- The serving size determines the number of calories you are eating or drinking
Some nutrients can affect your health in good or bad ways. Most people need to watch the amount of saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar, and salt (sodium) they eat. Look at the label to understand how it can help you pick the right foods.
One way to keep unneeded calories out of your diet is to avoid foods with added sugars. This label shows 10 g of added sugar! Another good idea is to limit the saturated fat and sodium (salt) in your diet to lower your risk of heart disease. One serving of the food listed here has 1 g of saturated fat and 160 mg of sodium. It also contains 260 mg of calcium which is good for your bone health.
% Daily Value (%DV)
But how much is enough and how much is too much of each nutrient? The % Daily Value on the food label tells you this.
Next to each nutrient on the nutrition label is a percentage. The label above describes a food that has 8 grams of Total Fat which is 10% of the Daily Value. This means one serving of this food provides 1/10th of the fat an average person needs in a day. This value is based on a typical 2000 calorie daily intake. If you consume fewer calories in a day, then 8 grams of Fat would provide more than 10% of the fat needed in one day. The %DV helps you balance all the nutrients you need in your diet.
If there is no %DV listed, it means there is no recommended level for most people. For example, you do not need to have any sugar or trans fat to stay healthy. And people over the age of 4 years old do not require a certain level of protein in their diet.
Read food labels and make healthy food choices!