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How to Read a Food Label

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, and minerals are in a serving.

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

Some are in the Nutrition Facts box:

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 any vitamins and minerals.

Percent Daily Value. This section lists the amount and Percent Daily Value of each nutrient. The percent daily value is based on nutrition recommendations for someone getting 2,000 calories per day, or sometimes for 2,500 calories per day.

Ingredients. The ingredients label tells what the food is made of, typically listed from largest to smallest amount by weight.

Fat-Free, Lite, and More

You might also notice other things on the package, like these terms:

Calorie-free: Has less than 5 calories.

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

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

Light or lite: 1/3 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 calories or less.

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

Reduced cholesterol: Has at least 25% less cholesterol than the regular version, and 2 grams or less 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 Kimball Johnson, MD on September 21, 2012

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