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How can I read food labels?

Also pay attention to the ingredient list on the side of the label. The ingredients are listed by weight so the most prominent ingredients by weight are listed in order. It will give you a great snapshot to what the food contains simply by what the ingredients are that are listed by weight.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Always start by looking at the serving size of the product. This is the key to all the information listed below. For example, if a cereal box states 3/4 cup is one serving then all of the information such as calories, protein, carbs, fat is assuming that you had 3/4 cup of that cereal. Should you choose to eat 1.5 cups instead, you would need to multiply all of the info by 2 to get an accurate picture. Visit eatright.org for more tips on reading food labels.
Ximena Jimenez
Nutrition & Dietetics
The first information you want to look on the nutrition fact label is the serving size. All the data is based on this number which comes in a familiar unit such as: cups, tablespoons or pieces.

Calories and Calories from fat identifies the amount of energy or calories from one serving of the food and from fat. The recommended amount is no more than 30% of calories per day from fat.

You can easily use the percent daily value DRV to limit Nutrients such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. %DV tells you how much of a nutrient is in one serving of the food you are eating. A %DV of 5 % is considered low and 20 % is considered high.

For Vitamin A, C, calcium and iron you want to buy foods with a high % DV and for fats and sodium a low % DV. You can also make food trade-offs by using %DV. If eat something with a high percent daily value, you can balance it with other foods eaten later that day.
Kelly Traver
Internal Medicine

You can read the food label by the following:

  • Start here: The first place to begin is with the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are standardized so you can easily compare similar foods. If you eat the equivalent of two servings, you must double the calories and nutrients.
  • Check calories: This is the amount of calories per serving, using the correct serving size. When one serving of a food item has more than 400 calories per serving, it is high in calories. By looking at the calories and nutrients listed on the label, you can determine whether the food is worth eating. Calories from fat: These are calories solely from fat. Focus on getting fat in your diet from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Skip food products that contain trans and saturated fats.
  • Limit these nutrients: These are nutrients most people eat in adequate amounts or even too much of. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. Sugars refer to both natural and added sugars. Read the ingredients list to find added sugars, which may be listed as sugar, sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup, honey, and fructose. If sugar is among the first few ingredients, the food is high in added sugar. Since added sugar contributes empty calories, look for foods and beverages low in added sugars.
  • Get enough of these nutrients: Most people have to work hard to get enough fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diet. Eating the right amounts of these nutrients can help to prevent some diseases and conditions. Foods with 5 grams of fiber or more are considered "high-fiber" foods. Vitamins and minerals are shown as percentages. The goal is to consume 100% of each of these nutrients daily to prevent nutrition-related diseases.
  • Footnotes: The statement "Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet" must appear on all food labels. If the package is small, the rest of this section may not appear. The full footnote is always the same, because it shows recommended dietary advice, not information about the food in the package. Daily Values are recommended levels of intakes. They are shown for a 2,000-calorie and a 2,500-calorie diet.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.