How to Read Food Labels
Just about every packaged food made in the U.S. has a food label
indicating serving size and other nutritional
information. The "Nutrition
Facts" food labels are intended to give you information
about the specific packaged food in question.
Measurements of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate,
protein, vitamins and minerals are calculated for a
"typical portion." But, reading these labels can be
confusing. Below find an example of a food label and an
explanation of what it means.
Serving Size. Serving sizes are based on the
amount of food people typically eat, which makes them
realistic and easy to compare to similar foods. This may
or may not be the serving amount you normally eat. It is
important that you pay attention to the serving size,
including the number of servings in the package and
compare it to how much you actually eat. The size of the
serving on the food package influences all the nutrient
amounts listed on the top part of the label. For
example, if a package has 4 servings and you eat the
entire package, you quadruple the calories, fat,
cholesterol, etc. that you have eaten.
Calories and Calories From Fat. The number of
calories and grams of nutrients are provided for the
stated serving size. This is the part of the food label
where you will find the amount of fat per serving.
Nutrients. This section lists the daily amount
of each nutrient in the food package. These daily values
are the reference numbers that are set by the government
and are based on current nutrition recommendations. Some
labels list daily values for both 2,000 and 2,500
"% Daily Value" shows how a food fits into a 2,000
calorie/day diet. For diets other than 2,000 calories,
divide by 2,000 to determine the % Daily Value for
nutrients. For example, if you are following a 1,500
calorie diet, your % Daily Value goal will be based on
75% for each nutrient, not 100%.
For fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, choose foods
with a low % Daily Value. For total carbohydrates,
fiber, vitamins and minerals, try to reach your goal
for each nutrient.
Calories Per Gram. This information shows the
number of calories in a gram of fat, carbohydrate and
Ingredients. Each product should list the
ingredients on the label. They are listed from largest
to smallest amount (by weight). This means a food
contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and
the smallest amount of the last ingredient.
Label Claim. Another aspect of food labeling
is label claims. Some food labels make claims such as
"low cholesterol" or "low fat." These claims can only be
used if a food meets strict government definitions. Here
are some of the meanings.
(per standard serving size)
||Less than 0.5 gram (g.) of fat or sugar
||3 g. of fat or less
|Reduced fat or
||At least 25% less fat or sugar
||Less than 2 milligrams (mg.) cholesterol and 2
g. or less of saturated fat
||At least 25% less cholesterol and 2 g. or less
of saturated fat
||Less than 5 calories
||40 calories or less
|Light or lite
||1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat; if more than
half the calories come from fat, fat content
must be reduced by 50% or more
Reviewed by the Department of Nutrition Therapy at The
Cleveland Clinic. Last Editorial Review: 7/14/2005
Charlotte Grayson, MD, WebMD, August 2004.
Portions of this page ©
The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004