Secrets From Inside Nutrition Facts Labels
How to use nutrition facts on packaged food for your diet and health.
Daily Values: What Does It Mean?
Along with listing the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and
fiber in grams, the label includes "% Daily Value." This item tells you
what percentage of the recommended daily nutrient is in a serving.
The daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie a day diet. Men and very
active women may need to consume more calories to meet their energy needs.
Check the bottom of the nutrition facts box, which includes the recommended
amounts in grams for a 2,000-calorie-a-day and a 2,500-calorie-a-day diet.
"But don't get hung up on the math," says McCulloch. "If an item
has only 5% or less of the daily value, consider it low in that ingredient. If
it has 20% or more, consider it high. A product with 20% or more of the daily
value of fiber, for example, represents an excellent source of fiber,"
according to the USDA.
Fiber: Look for Facts on This Nutrient
Nutritionists say we should consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber a day.
"Most people get barely half that amount," says University of
Pennsylvania nutritionist Lisa Hark, PhD, RD, author of Nutrition for
When shopping for breads, grains or breakfast cereals, she suggests choosing
brands with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving or more. Fruits, vegetables,
beans, and nuts also contribute fiber to your diet.
Sodium: Beware of Too Much Salt
The nutrient label singles out facts on sodium, or salt, for good reason.
Too much can increase the risk of hypertension (high blood pressure) -- one of
the leading causes of heart disease. Studies show that the lower an
individual's salt intake, the lower the risk of developing hypertension.
Consuming enough potassium also helps keep blood pressure down.
Look for packaged foods that contain 5% or less of the daily value of
sodium. When choosing canned foods, rinsing the liquid off the food can help
lower the sodium content.
Sugars: Watch for Empty Calories
Many packaged foods include sugars in a variety of forms, which can add up
to a lot of calories and not much nutrition.
"This item on the label is useful because it combines all the
different forms of sugar that may appear in food, from refined sugar to honey
and fructose," says McCulloch. Remember: 4 to 5 grams of sugar is the
equivalent of a level teaspoon of sugar.
Vitamins and Minerals: Useful Facts to Track
The label facts list vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. If you eat plenty
of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products -- or if you
take a multivitamin -- you probably don't need to worry about these numbers. If
you're trying to get more calcium, look for foods with at least 20% of daily