Would you like to learn how to read a Nutrition Facts Label, but don’t know where to start?  Knowing how to decode a Nutrition Facts label can help you understand what’s in your food and can lead you to make wiser food choices and maybe eat healthier in general.  Below is a primer to help you get started.

Serving Size and number of Servings Per Container

The serving size tells you the portion size of that food.  Servings per container tells you the total number of servings in the container.  Make sure to compare your usual helping to the label’s serving size—consider getting out some measuring cups to see how much cereal you really eat!  Hint hint, you may need to do some multiplying to get an accurate picture of your calories!


 This refers to the total number of calories that are in this food from all sources (meaning, from fat, protein, carbohydrate and alcohol) in one serving.  

Percent Daily Value (% DV)

The percent of Daily Value, or %DV, is based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet.  You may need more or less than 2,000 calories, so be mindful of that as you evaluate each food item.  Be smart and keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium as low as possible (low is considered ≤5% DV) and strive for high %DVs of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals (≥20%).  We want to have lower intakes of nutrients that are associated with developing health conditions (like cholesterol and heart disease) and higher intakes of nutrients that are beneficial to our bodies (think potassium lowering blood pressure).


Changes are coming!

Manufacturers are complying with the law to update labels in the near future.  Some packages already have the new labels on them. We all need a refresh (right?!) and the label is no different.  Here’s a quick rundown of what’s changing:

– Increased font sizes on Calories and Serving Sizes, drawing our attention to those key numbers.  

– Serving sizes have also been updated to more accurately reflect our typical portions (think a 12 oz. soda can or 20 oz. bottle of soda on the new label instead of an 8 oz. serving on the old label.  It’s the amount you’re likely to eat in one sitting).  

– Under the Carbohydrate section, they’ll now have a line item for “added sugars”.  Try to keep this number less than or equal to 10% of your total daily calories.  

– Instead of requiring manufacturers to list vitamins A and C, you’ll now notice vitamin D and potassium listed as many Americans are deficient in these and they’re vital to disease prevention.

Ingredient List:

Don’t forget to read the ingredient list!  This technically isn’t a part of the label, but it’s important to read through.  This is especially true when comparing the same products made by differentbrands–this list may make your decision clear!  Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight.  So the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first.  Aim for words that you can pronounce and understand.

The more labels you read, the more you’ll begin to understand them and use them to help guide your purchase decisions.  Now you’ve got a primer, you’re off to a good start!


— By Lindsey DeCaro, RDN, LDN

Smart Lifebites