How to Read a Food Label

Dietary Fiber. A non-digestible carbohydrate found in foods, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and legumes. It is a dietary component that most Americans need more of—along with vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.

Percent Daily Value (% DV).  Percentage of which a specific nutrient in a serving of a particular food contributes to the daily value—or need (100%) for that nutrient. The % DV can tell you whether a food product is a low, good, or excellent source of that particular nutrient. Low Source – 5% or less of nutrient; Good Source – 10%-19% of nutrient; Excellent Source – 20% or greater of nutrient. The % DV is also a good guide to use when comparing food choices based on the content of certain nutrients.

The Daily Values (DVs) are reference points for intakes determined by public health experts and are considered general guidelines based on a 2,000 calorie daily intake. If your calorie needs are higher, then the percent listed on the label would be lower, and conversely, if your calorie needs are lower, then the percent listed will actually be higher.

Protein. Another energy-providing nutrient for the body with many important functions, one of which being cell/body tissue growth and repair.

Sodium. This nutrient should be limited according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Other words for “salt” on an ingredient statement are: “sodium chloride”, “sodium caseinate”, “monosodium glutamate”, “trisodium phosphate”, “sodium ascorbate”, “sodium bicarbonate” and “sodium stearoyl lactylate”.

Sugar. Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. Some sugars are naturally occurring, while others are added. Be aware of other words for “sugar” that are often listed on an ingredient statement: sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, cane juice, fructose, glucose, honey and maltodextrin. These words indicate sugar has been added to the food product. Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little added sugars. Consider using Stevia as a sweetener. It is a natural ingredient derived from a plant and is 100 – 300 times sweeter than sugar and can be found in most health food stores.

Total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. These nutrients should be limited, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Saturated Fat. A fat associated with poor heart health, coming mainly from animal foods and certain oils; typically solid at room temperature.

Trans Fat. A fat negatively associated with poor heart health, formed during the hydrogenation process (when a softer or unsaturated fat is processed to become more firm or solid), but can be found naturally in some foods. Most trans fat in the diet comes from hydrogenated fats.

Cholesterol. A waxy, fat-like substance associated with poor heart health; produced naturally in the body and found in all foods of animal origin.

Other Words to Look For:

Sodium free. Product must contain less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.

Very low sodium.  Product must contain 35 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.

Low sodium. Product must contain 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.

Fat free. To make this claim, a product must contain less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.

 Low fat. This type of product must contain 3 grams or less of fat per serving.

Low, Good, Excellent. These words on product packaging carry specific, legal meaning as defined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

  •  Low Source – 5% or less of nutrient
  •  Good Source – 10%-19% of nutrient
  •  Excellent Source – 20% or greater of nutrient

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