Nutrition Facts Labels: Figuring Out Your Food
February 12, 2020
By Alexa Wilson, MPH
Have you ever picked up a food item, turned to the Nutrition Facts Label, and questioned exactly what you were looking at? If so, no worries!
This post will provide a brief summary of the components of the Nutrition Facts Label, as well as the proper way to interpret its contents.
If you haven’t gotten into the habit of figuring out what’s in the packaged products you’re eating, now is a great time to start!
The serving size focuses on the amount of food that is typically consumed at one time. This tells us that the nutrition details provided on the label is based upon a single (one) serving of food.
servings per container
Servings Per Container provide the total number of servings in the entire package of food. What’s important to note here is that one package of food may contain more than one serving of food.
This is a simple & straightforward concept. Let’s say you are snacking on a bag of popcorn. If the label states that the entire package contains 3 servings, and you consume the entire package, this means that you have consumed 3 times the amount of calories & nutrients provided on the label.
By definition, calories refer to the total amount of energy, or “calories”, provided by all food sources in one serving of food. Calories are a unit of measurement, specifically, a unit of energy. The body requires energy that is provided by proteins, fats, carbohydrates and alcohol. By consuming and burning an equal amount of calories, the body is typically able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
100 calories per serving = MODERATE
400+ calories per serving = HIGH
★ remember ★
If we consume more calories than we burn through physical activity, this typically leads to weight gain.
If we consume and burn an equal amount of calories, we are more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
If we consume less calories than we burn through physical activity, this typically leads to weight loss.
Every body & every individual’s metabolism is different! Caloric needs vary from person to person, depending upon the desire or medical necessity to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain current weight.
calories from fat
Calories from fat act as the contribution of fat content found within the total number of calories of a single serving of food.
Don’t worry, calories from fat do not count as additional calories!
Remember: just because a food is labeled as “fat-free” does not mean that it is “calorie-free”; Also, low-calorie does not always mean healthier!
A serving of gummy candies (approximately 7 pieces) might contain 75 calories, whereas a serving of cooked salmon, with a cup of cooked broccoli and 1/2 cup of brown rice might contain 400-430 calories. Although the gummy candies contain less calories, it contains food coloring and excess sugar, while failing to provide the body with essential nutrients. The prepared meal of salmon, broccoli and brown rice provides protein, whole grains, vitamins and fiber, making it the healthier dietary option.
% daily value
Percent Daily Value, often expressed as %DV, tells us how much of a specific nutrient is found in one serving of food.
Daily Value refers to the recommended quantity of key nutrients recommended on a daily basis, per each nutrient found in one serving of food.
5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving = LOW
20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving = HIGH
★ remember ★
Necessary %DV might vary from person to person. Some individuals might require higher or lower values, depending upon age, weight, height, gender, and physical activity participation.
The nutrients section of the Nutrition Facts Label helps us to choose healthy dietary alternatives. Such alternatives include food products that contain fewer nutrients that we should avoid, and higher amounts of nutrients that we should consume more often.
nutrients to limit
Aim to consume less than 100% DV of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol & sodium.
nutrients to consume often
Aim to consume 100% DV of iron, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C & calcium.
For a kid-friendly version of the Nutrition Facts Label, click the link below!