You may be familiar with the nutrition labels featured on the side of your favorite food and drink products — but deciphering these can feel like trying to read a foreign language. Learn how to read a nutrition label to help you make healthier food choices.
A serving is a specific amount of food or drink featured at the top of the Nutrition Facts label. The serving size is a standard measurement describing the amount people typically eat or drink at one time.
Often a package contains more than one serving — so the label also lists the total number of servings per container. For example, a gallon of milk may have 16 servings per container. But the actual serving size is typically one cup of milk. All the information on the nutrition label is based on the listed serving size.
Serving information is not a recommendation of how much to eat. Instead, it serves as a guide to help you choose and compare foods and drinks.
Calories are often viewed in a negative light — but these units of energy found in food or drinks allow your body to function as it should. It’s only when energy is not used that it becomes stored fat. Eating too many calories is linked to weight gain and obesity.
Knowing how many calories an item has can help you decide how much to consume of that food or beverage compared to your total calorie intake. In general, 2,000 calories a day is the recommended amount. However, this number could differ depending on your activity level, height, age or weight.
The nutrients section displays key nutrients that impact your health. This includes macronutrients like fat, carbohydrates and protein. Your body needs macronutrients to function correctly.
The macronutrients on a nutrition label are located at the top. They are usually followed by micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals.
Look for foods that contain more of the nutrients your body needs, like:
Labels also list nutrients you should limit, like:
The percent Daily Value (%DV) displays how much of a listed nutrient in one serving of food contributes to your total daily diet and is based on a 2,000-calorie diet for the entire day.
Nutrient amounts are usually listed in grams and milligrams, making it difficult to calculate how much a serving contributes to your daily nutritional needs. The percent Daily Value takes care of the math, interpreting the nutrient numbers and putting them on a 0-100% DV percentage scale. For example, if the label lists a 25% DV for calcium, a single serving provides 25% of the calcium you need daily.
Percent daily value can help determine if a serving is high or low in a particular nutrient. A product with 5% DV or less of a nutrient is considered low. However, 20% DV or higher is considered high in that nutrient. Low or high can be beneficial or unhealthy depending on whether you need more of a nutrient, like dietary fiber or less, like saturated fat.
Each individual is unique. So, it’s important to read nutrition labels with your own healthy eating needs in mind.
If you’re ready to begin your health and wellness journey, fitness and nutrition are the key ingredients. Learn how to revamp your eating habits when you schedule an appointment with our registered dietician at 5 Bridges Health & Fitness.