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How to Read a Food Label

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You’ve seen the "Nutrition Facts" label on everything from a bag of baby carrots to a box of pasta. It tells you how much fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, protein, vitamins, minerals, calories and more are in a serving.

Confused by all the numbers? Here's what they really mean.

Serving Size. Serving size may or may not be the amount that you normally eat. Compare it to how much you actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed. For example, if a package has four servings and you eat the entire package, you quadruple the calories, fat, cholesterol, etc.

Calories, and Calories from Fat. The number of calories, as well as the grams or milligrams of nutrients, are provided for the stated serving.

Nutrients. These include fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein, as well as select vitamins and minerals.

Percent Daily Value. The percent daily value is based on nutrition recommendations for someone getting 2,000 calories per day.

Ingredients. The ingredients label tells you what is in the food, listed by the largest to smallest amount by weight.



Fat-Free, Lite, and More

You might also notice other things on the package, like these terms, which refer to amount per specified serving:

Calorie-free: Has fewer than 5 calories.

Cholesterol-free: Has fewer than 2 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol, and 2 grams or fewer of saturated fat.

Fat-free: Has less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving.

Light or lite: Has one-third fewer calories or 50% less fat than the regular version. If more than half of the calories come from fat, it must have at least 50% less fat than the regular version.

Low-calorie: Has 40 or fewer calories.

Low-fat: Has 3 grams or fat or less.

Reduced cholesterol: Has at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular version, and 2 grams or fewer of saturated fat.

Reduced fat: Has at least 25% less fat than the regular version.

Reduced sugar: Has at least 25% less sugar than the regular version.

Sugar-free: Has less than 0.5 gram of sugar per serving.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on October 01, 2014

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