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What can a food’s Nutrition Facts Panel tell me about calories?

Packaged foods contain a Nutrition Facts Panel on the side or back of the packaging that gives you the nutritional information for that food. Reading the entire panel is the best way to assess if a food is a heart-healthy choice. One area you will look at is the section on calories.

Knowing how many calories are in a food will be important if you are trying to lose weight, or even maintain your weight. While it's not always necessary to strictly count calories, some people find it useful to calculate their estimated calorie needs and then keep track of their daily intake. Food labels can help with that. However, even if you are not counting calories every day, looking at the calories listed on a food product can help you decide how often a particular food can fit into your healthy eating plan. A good rule of thumb is, if the calories are high -- for example, more than half the amount of calories you estimate for the whole day -- then the particular food is not a good choice on a regular basis.

You may want to use the General Guide to Calories, which is defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), to help with your decision making. This guide indicates:
  • 40 calories as “low,”
  • 100 calories as “moderate,” and
  • 400 or more calories as “high.”
This guide is based on a 2,000-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.