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Nutrition Basics

Food Labels

Read the Nutrition Label

People look at food labels for different reasons. But whatever the reason, many consumers want to know how to use this information effectively. Nutrition facts on food labels tell you the calories (or food energy) and nutrients in one serving of food.

  • On packaged food, look for the Nutrition Facts Panel (see below).
  • For fresh fruits and vegetables, look for posted nutrition information in the produce section or ask the produce manager if you don’t see it.
Food Nutrition Labels

Important Nutrition Label Notes

Percent Daily Value (%DV): These numbers tell you what one serving of food provides as a percentage of established standards. The %DV can tell you whether a food product is a low, good or excellent source of that particular nutrient.

Low Source: 5 percent or less of nutrient
Good Source: 10-19 percent of nutrient
Excellent Source: 20 percent or greater of nutrient

The Daily Values (DVs) are reference points and are considered general guidelines based on a 2,000 calorie daily intake. Your needs may be different.

Serving Size: Nutritional information on labels is given on a per serving basis, not per container. You can determine your calorie and nutrient intake when you know how many servings you consumed.

Servings per Container: Information reflected in the Nutrition Facts Panel is for a single serving. If you eat more than one serving or prepare the whole package, multiply the Nutrition Facts Panel figures by the number of servings you consume. For example, if the serving size listed is 1 cup, which provides 25 calories and you actually eat 2 cups, then you are consuming 50 calories.

Ingredients: Ingredients shown on a product label are listed in order by weight. The ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. For example, if sugar is listed first then there is more sugar in the product than other ingredients.

For more information on using the nutrition label to make your calories count, complete the interactive learning program on the FDA external link website.

Food Label Claims


Rinse the Fat!

Do nutrition labels seem to be written in a foreign language? Here is a quick run-down of the main food label claims and what they mean.

Calories

  • Calorie free: Less than 5 calories in a serving.
  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less in a serving.

Fat

  • Fat free: Less than 1/2 gram fat in a serving.
  • Low fat: 3 grams of total fat or less in a serving.
  • For a meal or main dish: 3 grams of total fat or less in 100 grams of food and not more than 30 percent of calories from fat.
  • Percent fat free: A food with this claim must also meet the low fat claim.

Sodium

  • Sodium free: Less than 5 mg of sodium in a serving.
  • Low sodium: 140 mg of sodium or less in a serving. For a meal or main dish 140 mg of sodium or less in 100 grams of food.
  • Very low sodium: 35 mg of sodium or less in a serving.

Saturated Fat

  • Saturated fat free: Less than 1/2 gram of saturated fat in a serving; levels of trans fatty acids must be not more than 1 percent of total fat.
  • Low saturated fat: 1 gram of saturated fat or less in a serving and 15 percent or less of calories from saturated fat. For a meal or main dish: 1 gram of saturated fat or less in 100 grams of food and less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat.

Cholesterol

  • Cholesterol free: Less than 2 mg of cholesterol in a serving; saturated fat content must be 2 grams or less in a serving.
  • Low cholesterol: 20 mg of cholesterol or less in a serving; saturated fat content must be 2 grams or less in a serving. For a meal or main dish: 20 mg of cholesterol or less in 100 grams of food, with saturated fat content less than 2 grams in 100 grams of food.

Light: A product has been changed to have half the fat or one-third fewer calories than the regular product; or the sodium in a low calorie, low-fat food has been cut by 50 percent; or a meal or main dish is low-fat or low calorie.

Reduced/Less/Lower/Fewer: A food has at least 25 percent less of something like calories, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium than the regular food or a similar food to which it is compared.

Lean and Extra Lean: The two terms, "lean" and "extra lean," are used to describe the fat content of meat, poultry, fish and shellfish.

  • Lean: Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol in a serving.
  • Extra lean: Less than 5 grams of fat, less than 2 grams of saturated fat and less than 95 mg of cholesterol in a serving.

 



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