All About Food Labels
What Are 'Daily Values' on a Food Label?
To the right of the "Nutrition Facts" are the Daily Value percentages. The Percent (%) Daily Value indicates how much of a certain nutrient one serving of the food contains, compared to the recommended amount of that nutrient you should have for the entire day.
The percentages next to each nutrient -- such as fat, sodium, fiber, protein -- can help you determine whether a food is "high" or "low" in that nutrient. And 5% or less is considered to be "low," while 20% or higher is "high." For example, the Dietary Fiber is 0%, or "low," in Ritz crackers.
Sample Nutrition Facts
Here is a sample Nutrition Facts label (for Ritz Crackers):
Ingredients: Enriched flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate [vitamin B1], riboflavin [vitamin B2], folic acid), soybean oil, sugar, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, salt, leavening (baking soda, calcium phosphate), high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavor, cornstarch.
Serving Size: 5 Crackers (16g)
Servings Per Container: About 28
Amount per Serving
Calories: 80 Calories From Fat: 40
% Daily Value*
Total Fat:4.5g 7%
Saturated Fat: 1g 5%
Trans Fat: 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g
Monounsaturated Fat: 1g
Cholesterol: 0mg 0%
Sodium: 135 mg 6%
Total Carbohydrate:10g 3%
Dietary Fiber: 0g 0%
Vitamin A: 0%* Vitamin C 0%
Calcium: 2%* Iron 2%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower, depending on your calorie needs.
Avoiding Marketing Hype
As you get used to reading food labels, you'll realize that some manufacturers try to fool consumers.
Some packages say "all natural." But if the products are high in sugar or saturated fat, "all natural" means nothing! If a food label says "low-fat," read the Nutrition Facts to see if it's really a healthy choice. Many times, a low-fat food is still high in sugar or calories.
Boosting Key Nutrients
It's important to choose foods that are nutrient-rich or have a high nutrient density. That means food with:
- Substantial levels of vitamins and minerals
- Fewer calories
- Limited saturated and trans fats
- Low levels of cholesterol, sodium, and sugar
Limit these nutrients: total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Eating too many of these may increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. No more than 1/3 of your total daily calories should be from fat. And most of it should be mono- or polyunsaturated.
Get plenty of these nutrients: fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Eating plenty of these nutrients can boost your immune function and overall health. Fiber is important to promote healthy bowel function, while calcium builds strong bones and prevents fractures. Vitamin A and C are important for staying well.
By reading the Nutrition Facts, you can be sure you're getting the nutrients you need each day. For instance, if a food has 30% of the Daily Value of calcium, you know you will need to eat a few more food sources of calcium (like milk, cheese, and yogurt) to reach 100% daily value of calcium for the day. If a food provides 20% of the Daily Value of protein, you'll need to make other protein selections during the day to ensure 100% of the Daily Value of protein.