Understanding Nutrition Labels

Food labels provide consumers with important information to help them make an informed decision about what foods to eat. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to decipher the terminology and nutrition details on a package.

The updated Nutrition Facts label includes some changes that could make it easier to interpret its data. These include bolding certain elements to draw your attention and emphasizing calories, serving size and other details in larger fonts.


Calories are a measure of how much energy is contained in food or beverage. Calorie counts on nutrition labels are based on both serving sizes and the total amount in the entire container (package).

Many individuals attempting to shed pounds or maintain a healthy body composition use calorie counting as part of their plan. These consumers typically keep food diaries or enter calorie counts into smartphone apps to monitor their eating habits and make healthy food selections.

The Nutrition Facts label on packaged foods and drinks provides essential information about a food item’s nutritional content, such as calories, fat, carbohydrates and other essential vitamins and minerals. These labels help consumers make informed choices when shopping for groceries and identify nutrient-dense options to promote a balanced diet.


Nutrients are essential substances our bodies require for basic bodily functions. These include fats (lipids), proteins and carbohydrates.

Nutrients can be divided into two categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are essential for growth and development, while micronutrients support specific physiological processes.

Nutrition labels provide information on the total caloric intake, fats, proteins, carbohydrates and vitamins and minerals found in food items. They also indicate how much of each nutrient should be consumed daily.

Nutrition labels typically display the % Daily Value (%DV) for each nutrient present in a serving of food. This percentage represents the daily recommended amount for that nutrient.

The %DV is important because it ensures you’re getting enough nutrients for healthy living. It also shows which foods are high in a particular nutrient and which ones are low. This figure is based on an average 2,000-calorie diet; however, your individual requirements may differ based on age, gender and activity level.

Percent Daily Value

Percent Daily Values (%DVs) indicate how much a serving of food contributes to your recommended daily intake for specific nutrients. They are calculated based on 2,000-calorie diet, but you may require more or less depending on your age, sexual preference, height, weight and other factors.

In most cases, the nutrition label will display 100% of the recommended intake for that nutrient. However, you may need to eat less or more of a certain nutrient if following a heart-healthy eating plan or if your doctor suggests it.

In general, foods with 5% or less DV (dry matter value) are considered low-nutrient, while those with 20% or more are high-nutrient. When trying to get more of the essential nutrients you need from food sources, look for items with higher %DVs while limiting saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.

Serving Size

Nutrition labels use serving sizes to provide consumers with information about the nutritional value of a food or beverage. They use standard units like cups or teaspoons for easy comparisons and reflect what people typically consume in terms of quantity.

The FDA requires that food and beverage amounts be calculated based on what people typically consume during a single eating occasion, known as Reference Amounts Customarily Consumed (RACC).

This standard was established through surveys conducted between 1977-1978 and 1987-1988, which asked Americans about their typical food consumption habits.

Due to the common practice of consuming more than one serving size, some packages utilize a “dual column labeling” system where one serving is displayed and the entire package’s nutritional information listed in another column. This strategy effectively communicates the number of calories, proteins and more contained within an item.

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