Breaking the Code of Nutrition Facts Labels

By: Shaina Fimbel

Nutrition Fact labels can be found on almost all food items in the grocery store, but are you taking advantage of them? Reading and understanding nutrition labels is a quick and easy way to become a healthier and smarter shopper.

Original Image by USDA via Flickr
Original Image by USDA via Flickr

All labels display the same nutrition information: serving size, servings per container, calories, macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat and protein), cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals. As a general rule for reading labels, percent Daily Value greater or equal to 20% is considered high, and lesser or equal to 5% is low.

 Servings: Understanding serving size can be crucial for someone watching calorie intake or portion size. In this example label, a serving is equal to one tbs, and there are a total of 25 servings in this product, or 50 tbs.

Calories: Next on the label the number of Calories are listed per serving. Here, there are 10 Calories per one tbs serving. It is important to remember that changing the serving size, such as having a half a cup or two cups, will also change the Calories that are ingested.

 Fat: The total amount of fat in a food item is listed in both grams and as a percent Daily Value (DV). The percent DV for all macronutrients is calculated based on a 2000 Calorie diet, which may be more or less than each individuals recommended intake. In addition, no more than 20 grams of saturated fat should be consumed in a day, and trans fats should be avoided completely.

 Cholesterol: The recommended cholesterol intake is 300 milligrams (mg) or less per day. Therefore, in this example a single serving provides 10mg, or 10% cholesterol for one day.

 Sodium: The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2300mg of sodium per day. A low sodium item must not contain more than 5% sodium, or 115 mg.

 Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are divided into three groups, total carbohydrate, fiber and sugar. When looking for a high fiber item, make sure fiber is 20% or greater DV.

 Protein: On average, it is recommended to consume about 55g of protein per day.

 Vitamins and Minerals: The goal is to obtain 100% of suggested amounts of vitamins and minerals everyday.

If shopping needs to be done quick, just make sure to check three easy numbers on every label!

Quick Health Scan

Saturated fat: less than 20%

Sodium: less than 20%

Fiber: 20% or more 

What tricks of the trade have helped you scan labels quickly, yet efficiently?


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