Quick Guide to Understanding Food Labels


The ingredients are listed in descending order. The first five ingredients are the most important to look at because they have the most weight in what you are eating. 


Serving Size:

It is important to look at the serving size and the number of servings. Serving sizes are standardized and use common units to make food easy to compare.  Look to see how many servings you are actually consuming. This may change all of the nutrition amounts depending on the amount you consume. If there are two servings in one package and you consume the whole package, you are doubling the calories and the nutrient numbers, which includes the %Daily Values.



The calories on a nutrition label provide the amount of energy you will obtain from a serving. This also helps manage a person’s weight. Eating too many calories a day correlates with obesity. Many people consume more calories than necessary without getting enough nutrients. The label also has how many calories come from fat.  In general, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

  • 40 Calories is low
  • 100 Calories is moderate
  • 400 Calories or more is high



The kind of fat is as important as the amount of fat. Saturated fat and trans fat raise blood cholesterol levels. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines created by U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get 20-35% of their calories from fats. 



Too much cholesterol can raise your blood cholesterol levels. The American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. With a heart disease or diabetes, you should consume less than 200 milligrams each day. 



The body needs sodium, but only in small quantities. The 2010 Dietary recommends reducing sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day.  If you are over 50 or have a kidney disease, it is recommended to intake less than 1,500 milligrams per day. 


Percent Daily Value (%DV)

The %DV helps determine if the serving is high or low in a nutrient. Keep in mind that this is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. A 5%DV is low in all nutrients and a 20%DV is high for all nutrients. 



  • Limit: saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and sodium
  • Get enough: potassium, fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron
  • Percent Daily Value (% DV):
    • 5% DV or less is low
    • 20% DV or more is high

This article is intended to provide accurate and authoritative information on the subject matter covered. It is distributed with the understanding that FBMC is not rendering professional or medical advice and assumes no liability in connection with its use.



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