Food Labels and How to Read Them

Food Labels and How to Read Them

Packaged foods have a "Nutrition Facts" label that provides nutritional information, including the number of calories and the grams of protein and fat. These labels also give the exact number of grams of carbohydrate contained in a serving and the size of this serving. For those with diabetes, food labels are extremely helpful for carb counting and for determining appropriate insulin doses for these foods.

What consumers get from food labels:

  • nutrition information about almost every food in the grocery store
  • an easy-to-read format that enable consumers to more quickly find the information they need to make healthful food choices
  • information on the amount per serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and other nutrients of major health concern
  • nutrient reference values, expressed as % Daily Values, helps consumers see how a serving of this food fits into an overall daily diet
  • uniform definitions for terms that describe a food's nutrient content--such as "light," "low-fat," and "high-fiber"--to ensure that such terms mean the same for any product on which they appear
  • occasional well-documented claims about the relationship between a nutrient or food and a disease or health-related condition, such as calcium and osteoporosis, and fat and cancer. These are helpful for people who are concerned about eating foods that may help keep them healthier longer.
  • standardized serving sizes that make nutritional comparisons of similar products easier
  • declaration of total percentage of juice in juice drinks. This enables consumers to know exactly how much juice is in a product.

Manufacturers are required to provide information on certain nutrients and in a certain order. These nutrients were selected because they address today's health concerns. The order in which they appear reflects the priority of current dietary recommendations. They are declared as daily percentage values to reduce the risk of any misinterpretations.

  • total calories
  • calories from fat
  • calories from saturated fat
  • total fat
  • saturated fat
  • polyunsaturated fat
  • monounsaturated fat
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • potassium
  • total carbohydrate
  • dietary fiber
  • soluble fiber
  • insoluble fiber
  • sugars
  • sugar alcohol (for example, the sugar substitutes xylitol, mannitol and sorbitol)
  • other carbohydrate (the difference between total carbohydrate and the sum of dietary fiber, sugars, and sugar alcohol if declared)
  • protein
  • vitamin A
  • percent of vitamin A present as beta-carotene
  • vitamin C
  • calcium
  • iron
  • other essential vitamins and minerals
Reduced fat, low fat, fat free? - What Do they really mean?

Reduced: A food that contains at least 25 percent less of a nutrient or 25 percent fewer calories than a regular version.

Light: A food that has one third fewer calories, half the fat or half the sodium of a regular version. (It doesn't apply to products that use "light" to describe color or texture, such as "light, creamy cake frosting.")

Low: A food that contains little fat, sodium, cholesterol or calories. Low-fat items, for instance, have ewer than 3 grams of fat per serving; low-sodium items have less than 140 milligrams of sodium.

Free: A food that contains very little or no fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar or calories. Items that have 5 calories or less per serving can be labeled calorie-free. Items that contain less than 0.5 gram of fat per serving (such as cooking spray) can be labeled fat-free.

Good source of ...: A serving that contains at least 10 percent of the daily value for a particular nutrient.

Lean: A meat, poultry or seafood item that contains less than 10 grams of total fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat or 95 milligrams of cholesterol per serving.

This information and much more can be found at the FDA website.