Nutrition Articles

How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

Solving the Ninth Mystery of the World


Look at "Total Fat" on the mac and cheese label. The 18% daily value is close to the high point, but if you ate the whole package, you actually ate 36% of the recommended daily amount of fat (well above our benchmark of 20%). That amount, coming from just one source of food in a day, contributes a lot of fat to your daily diet. It would leave you 64% (100% - 36% = 64%) of your fat allowance for all other meals, drinks, and snacks you would eat that day.

If your daily goal is well below 2,000 calories for your weight loss plan, then use the percents as a frame of reference (realizing you need to be below the percents shown, per serving). Or, you may find it simpler to keep track of grams and milligrams instead of the percents. The Nutrition Facts footnote gives a scale in grams and milligrams for recommended amounts of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and fiber based on 2,000- and 2,500- calorie diets. (This footnote does not appear on small packages where there is no room for it.)

The percent daily value also offers a great way to watch your diet without completely giving up your favorite foods. For example, if you ate one serving of macaroni and cheese but ensured you had a low fat intake for all other foods you ate that day, you made a successful trade off. When you really want a food that is high in fat, always balance it with healthy low-fat foods in the same day.

Quick Interpretation Guide
  • Start at the top with Serving Size and Servings Per Container. Adjust all measurements below this point according to the serving size you will eat.
  • Look at the number of calories per serving (including how many calories are from fat).
  • Limit these nutrients: total fat (including saturated and trans fat), cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Get plenty of these nutrients: fiber, vitamins, calcium, and iron
  • Use the % Daily Value to determine what is a high or low number for your daily diet. 5% or less is low; 20% or more is high.
Don’t just use the nutrition facts to track the nutrients you want to cut back on. Use it to track the nutrients you want to increase (like fiber, calcium and vitamins)! Whether you’re a stickler for tracking every fat gram and calorie per day or someone who just wants a rough estimate of her daily nutrient intake, the nutrition facts label is a handy tool. Learn how to use it for foods you eat frequently and anything new that you are tempted to incorporate into your regular meal plan.
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About The Author

Laura Bofinger Laura Bofinger
As a freelance writer, Laura uncovers some kind of inspiration every day when she writes about health and fitness.

Member Comments

  • MAS1216
    I have learned that in order to use canned vegetables , I have to rinse them thoroughly in cold water before heating. Water retention is a big problem for me and this helps with salt reduction. There is so much sodium in foods! - 11/12/2015 11:43:43 AM
  • Our bodies are so complex and without all the variables added and computed... focusing on EXACT numbers is almost redundant when one thinks about it. Simplifying the percentage values on the label by using the 5% and 20% as you have stated is wholeheartedly welcomed and appreciated. Thank you! - 11/10/2015 6:25:28 PM
  • Great article and very informative and a great reminder to always read the labels. I have been doing this for a few years now but slacked off, time to get back on track. - 9/22/2015 11:47:11 AM
  • Answer: the carbohydrates come from Erythritol - a sugar alcohol that passes through your system mostly undigested. since the body doesn't break it down, you don't get energy/calories from it.

    Sandra - 9/5/2014 12:20:09 PM
  • Very helpful. I always look at the sodium - have always had a problem with water retention. It is hard to limit sodium intake because they put salt and sugar in everything!! So, mostly I just cook from scratch and shop mostly the produce and meat sections. Stay away from most canned products. - 9/6/2012 10:43:27 AM
  • I'm with LogiMom2010 on this one. I do the math and it doesn't add up. Are they subtracting fiber? - 6/6/2012 3:26:22 PM
  • I know that the FDA allows companies to round the numbers up. What I dont understand is how if you plug in the numbers on some products and do the math (Fatx9)+(Carbx4)+
    alories how it can be so far off the mark some times. Or how Truvia is SUPPOSED to be ZERO calories, but it had 3 Carbs. 3x4=12 Calories .. so how is this a Zero Calorie product?! - 9/3/2011 11:43:09 AM
  • Thank you for the information the lables are confusing, the fact that I have to do math every time I buy something from the store is frustrating and hard for me to keep my diet in line some times I just want to buy my food without the pop quiz. lol This of course leads to my only looking at cal per serving and some bad choices.

    I find the easiest way is fresh food, no cans or packages back to the basic that is my stratagy and I hope it will work! - 8/18/2011 11:15:18 AM
    I almost skipped this article because I thought I already knew! Thanks for the pointers on good/bad percentages and balancing foods throughout the day. Very helpful. - 8/7/2011 10:12:36 AM
  • Wow that's pretty interesting! It shocks me reading this because now looking back, as a kid I ate SO MUCH bad foods!! I wish I had known this years ago! Not that any child should be analyzing the nutrition labels or anything, but I think it would have been a great educational tool for parents to at least explain to their children about good vs. bad/ healthy vs. non-healthy food ranges. Or at least for the parents to be educated and know whats foods their family is eating. Thank you SO MUCH for this article!!!! - 7/1/2011 4:21:00 PM
  • This was actually very helpful. Hopefully I'll put it to good use :] - 6/18/2011 8:59:18 AM
  • Wow! I have read some many ways to read a label and they all seemed to confuse me, lol. So thank you for this simple rule that I am excited to use on my next trip to the grocery store! - 4/18/2011 9:32:58 AM
  • Thank you, the 5% vs. 20% guides are extremely helpful and easy to understand. - 3/15/2011 10:54:04 AM
  • i LOVE the 5%- 20% rule: 5% or LESS of things you DON'T want, 20% or MORE of things you DO want (as in fiber, etc) THANKS!! - 2/5/2011 11:08:46 PM
    I think that we have been tricked by food manufacturers because the way they package food. They will put what seems to be a single serving in a small bag or container when in fact it is two sometimes 4 servings. I found myself looking for a quick, but healthy snack in a convenience store the other day, and I could not find anything that was a single portion. I think that becoming aware of portions has really made a huge, positive impact on my health - 1/22/2011 9:15:32 AM

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