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What does percent Daily Value (DV) on food labels mean?

Percent daily values (DV) are based on the requirements for an adult consuming 2,000 calories per day. Even if you are eating less or more than that, they are still useful as an indicator that a food is high or low in a certain nutrient. If a food contains less than 5% of the DV, it is considered low in that nutrient. Per FDA regulations, manufacturers can claim a food is “a good source” of something if it contains 10-19% of the DV and is “high” in a nutrient if it contains 20% of more of the DV for that nutrient. Look for foods that are high in vitamins and minerals and low in sodium and cholesterol. There are no daily values for trans fat or sugar, and it is worth nothing that an item can be labeled “trans fat free” if it contains less than 0.5 g per serving.
Toby Smithson
Nutrition & Dietetics

The percent daily value refers to how much someone needs every day as part of a healthy diet. The nutrition facts label is based on a 2000 calorie diet so keep in mind if your caloric needs are higher or lower you will need to do some approximation for meeting your needs of fat, protein, carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Using the percent daily values is a good check point about meeting your needs.

A key part of adopting a heart-healthy diet will be to understand exactly what you are eating. The Nutrition Facts panel on the side or back of packaged foods can help you determine if a food is a good choice for heart health.

All Nutrition Facts labels will list the “Percent Daily Value” of each nutrient. But what does this mean exactly? The Percent Daily Value shows you what percentage of a nutrient the food provides. It is based only on a 2,000-calorie diet. Even though not everyone follows a 2,000-calorie diet, the Percent Daily Value can help you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient.

Note that the %DV column doesn't add up vertically to 100%. Rather each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient (for a 2,000-calorie diet). By looking at the number, you can tell if the food contributes a lot or a little of each of the nutrients you are trying to limit (for example, saturated fat and sodium) or get enough of (for example, dietary fiber and calcium).

Quick Guide to Percent DV
  • 5 percent or less is LOW
  • 20 percent or more is HIGH
For example, a one-cup serving of macaroni and cheese provides 18%DV for total fat. This is approaching 20%, which would be considered nearly high. The sodium is 20%DV, which is high. But if you ate both servings in the container, you would have to double the %DV for total fat to 36 and the %DV for sodium to 40. That's more than a third of the fat and sodium you should have in a whole day. That doesn't mean you can't eat it. But when a food you like is high in fat or sodium, you need to balance it with foods that are low in fat and sodium at other times of the day.
Use the percent Daily Values (DV) to help you evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. Daily values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV means 5 percent of the amount of fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories per day would eat. Remember, percent DVs are for the entire day -- not just for one meal or snack. You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent DV.

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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.