Reading Food Labels

Key Terms

Serving Size: All the information on a food label is based on the serving size. Be careful—one serving may be much smaller than you think. Compare what you eat to the serving size on the label.

Servings per Container: This is the suggested number of servings in the package or container. For example if the package has six servings per container and you eat half of the bag, you would be eating 3 servings. It is important to look at these numbers because you may be eating more than you think!

Calories: Most women need to eat about 1,600 – 1,800 calories per day, with no more than 30 percent (about 480 calories) from total fat. Active women need more calories, up to 2,200 per day (no more than 660 calories from total fat).

% Daily Value (%DV): This tells you whether a food is high or low in nutrients. Foods that have more than 20 percent daily value (20% DV) of a nutrient are high. Foods that have 5 percent daily value (5% DV) or less are low.

TIP: You can use the Nutrition Facts label not only to help limit those nutrients you want to cut back on but also to increase those nutrients you need to consume in greater amounts.

Total Fat: This is the total fat per one serving in grams and in % Daily Value. Choose food items with less fat.

Saturated Fat: Saturated fat is not healthy for your heart. Compare labels on similar foods and try to choose foods that have a 5% DV or less or with 2 grams or less for saturated fat.

Trans Fat: Trans fat is not healthy for your heart. When reading food labels, add together the grams (g) of trans fat and saturated fat, and choose foods with the lowest combined amount. If a food product has the words “partially hydrogenated oil” on the label it contains trans fats.

Cholesterol: Too much cholesterol is not healthy for your heart. Keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as low as possible. Cholesterol is found in organ meats, dairy products, shrimp, and egg yolks.
Sodium: Salt contains sodium. High sodium intake is linked to higher blood pressure. Foods that contain more than 20% DV are high in sodium. Look for labels that say "sodium-free" or "low sodium." Foods that are low in sodium contain no more than 5% DV.

TIP: Many food labels read "low-fat," "reduced fat," or "light." That does not always mean the food is low in calories. Remember, fat-free does not mean calorie free and calories do count!