How to Read Food Labels

The main purpose of the Nutrition Facts Label is to provide you with information you can use according to your personal needs. Some people need to modify the amount of fiber or sodium in their eating pattern while others are focused on protein. Using a Nutrition Facts Label is one tool among many to help guide your eating choices. 

Serving Size 

This is the amount of food people typically eat. Many people assume serving size is what you’re supposed to eat, but that number is there for a different reason. It gives you the quantity of food that contains all the other things listed on the label.

For example:  

  • The serving size on the label shown below is 2/3 cup. That means the calories, fat, sodium, protein, and nutrients listed occur in the amounts shown for 2/3 cup of that food. If you eat more or less than 2/3 of a cup you can adjust the numbers.  

  • Let’s say you ate 1 1/3 cups of this food (twice the serving size listed). You would get double the amount of everything on the label; so 1 1/3 cups of this food contains 460 calories, 16 grams of total fat, and 6 grams of protein.  

Calories Per Serving

The next section of the nutrition label includes calories per serving followed by a list of nutrients that can impact overall health. Some items like fat, carbohydrate, fiber, sugar, and protein are listed in grams and others like cholesterol and sodium are listed in milligrams. A registered dietitian or others on your care team can help you understand how many grams or milligrams of these nutrients to aim for daily.   

% Daily Value (DV) 

The % Daily Value (DV) column on the right side of the label can be confusing, so let’s break it down: 

  • This number represents the percentage of that nutrient you get (toward a daily quota/limit) from eating one serving of this food. If that doesn’t feel helpful to you, try using these parameters instead: 

    • A food is LOW in the item listed if it contains 5% DV or less per serving

    • A food is HIGH in the item listed if it contains 20% DV or more per serving 

  • Let’s use another example from the label below. One serving (2/3 cup) of this food has 4 grams of dietary fiber. Looking to the right, you’ll see that is 14% DV for fiber, so this food has a medium amount of dietary fiber.  

  • Another way to use the %DV column is to choose: 

    • Higher in % DV numbers for Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium

    • Lower in % DV numbers for Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium, and Added Sugars 

 Total Sugars and Added Sugars 

  • Total Sugars refers to the entire amount of sugar in a serving of that food. This includes sugars naturally present in the food or drink, like lactose in milk and fructose in fruit, and any “extra” sugar that may have been added to that food during processing.  

  • Added Sugars are those put into food by manufacturers. They can be sugars from any source, including honey, syrups, and/or sweeteners made from vegetable and fruit concentrates/juices. In the example below you’ll see that 2/3 cup of this food contains 12 grams of Total Sugar and 10 grams of Added Sugar. This means 10 grams of sugar were added to this food during manufacturing.  

  • Total Sugars (12 grams) minus Added Sugar (10 grams) leaves 2 grams of sugar remaining. Those grams of sugar are naturally occurring in the food. 

  • Using your % Daily Value (%DV) knowledge here, look to the right on the “Includes Added Sugars” line. See how it lists 20% DV for Includes Added Sugar? As we discussed before, something with 20% DV per serving is considered HIGH in that particular item, so this food would be considered high in Added Sugar. 

Our Iris Care team includes nurses, mental health therapists, and a registered dietitian nutritionist, all of whom are happy to help with any questions or concerns.