By Haley Shaw

Understanding how to interpret a nutrition label may be your key to success for uncovering food sensitivities, losing weight, or making healthier food choices. Before your cart starts piling up with groceries, take a few minutes to explore the ins and outs of nutrition labels. Your health and your waistline will thank you.

At, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists the following label building skills to make it easier for you to use nutrition labels. These tips will allow you to make quick, informed choices that contribute to a healthy diet.

Start with Serving Size



The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Label is the serving size, and number of servings in the package. The serving size on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

Check Out Total Calories



Calories provide our bodies with energy. This number signifies how many calories are in one serving. Make sure you take that into account when assessing how many calories you have consumed. Eating more calories than we burn during a day can lead to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, look for foods that are low in calories but high in nutrients.

According to FDA’s General Guide to Calories, 40 calories is low; 100 calories is moderate; 400 calories or more is high.

Let the Percent Daily Values Be Your Guide



Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV of fat provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day should eat. The percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack.

Depending on your goals, you may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients, you may need more or less than 100 percent DV. Low is considered 5 percent or less. Aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. 20 percent or more is considered high. Aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.

Limit These Nutrients

Health experts recommend keeping your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, cholesterol, and sodium as low as possible to help reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.

Get Enough of These Nutrients

Eat more fiber, potassium, vitamin D, calcium and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems such as osteoporosis and anemia. For example, getting enough calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that results in brittle bones as one ages. Additionally, choose more fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain dietary fiber to get more of these nutrients into your diet. Remember to aim high for percentage DV of the following nutrients: vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.

Additional Nutrients







You know about calories, but it is also important to know about these additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts label.

  • Protein. A percentage Daily Value for protein is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans and peas, peanut butter, seeds and soy products. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein for adults is just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, per day.
  • Fats. Fats include, unsaturated, saturated, and trans fat. Unsaturated fat, or “good fat,” is often referred to as “heart-healthy” fat. Foods that contain this type of fat include avocados, nuts, eggs, fish, and vegetable oils.
  • Carbohydrates. There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. It is best to get your carbohydrates through whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables. The total carbohydrate count on a nutrition label includes both fiber and sugar. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that takes a long time to digest and, thus, leaves you feeling full longer. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains all contain fiber. If you subtract he grams of fiber from total carbohydrates, you will be left with total grams of carbohydrates per serving.
  • Sugars. Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, occur naturally in foods such as fruit (fructose) and milk, (lactose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting your daily sugar intake to 9 teaspoons for men, and 6 teaspoons for women. Added sugars were added to the Nutrition Facts label in 2018. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars.

Check the Ingredient List



Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.

Now that you understand how to read a nutrition label, you can make healthier and more informed decisions about the food products you are buying. For additional resources from the FDA, visit


Haley Shaw owns Amp Up Fitness and works with MSBA to provide health and fitness content to members. You can contact Haley at or check out her website for offerings at