How to read food labels

By reading food labels you will become aware of what's in the foods you eat.

Nutrition facts label

The following information explains how to read the food label at left.

Serving size: The serving size lists the amount of food in one serving and the number of servings in one package.

Calories: Calories are a measure of energy released by a food. Try to limit your food choices to those that have less than one-third calories from fat.

Total fat: Total fat includes all types of fat (saturated, unsaturated, trans). Try to eat foods low in saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fat: Saturated fat raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Reduce saturated fats to help protect your heart.

Trans fat: Trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol, lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and add to heart disease. Eat as little trans fats as possible. Avoid foods that contain “partially hydrogenated” oils.

Cholesterol: Foods from animals (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter) have cholesterol.

Sodium: You need sodium (salt) to help your organs work well and keep your fluids in balance. Too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. One teaspoon of salt has 2,400 milligrams of sodium. This is the upper limit most people need each day.

Total carbohydrate: Carbohydrates give your body energy. Too many can raise your blood glucose. Everyone’s blood glucose is affected by carbohydrates differently.

Fiber: Fiber is the part of food that cannot be broken down during digestion. Because it moves through your body “undigested,” it plays an important role in keeping your digestive system moving and working well.

Total sugars: This is the total amount of natural sugars such as lactose (sugar in milk) or fructose (sugar in fruit) and added sugars.Added sugars: Part of the total sugars is added when the food was made.

Protein: Protein is important for healing, building muscle, strengthening your immune system.

Percent (%) daily value: This number tells you if a serving is low or high in the listed nutrients. In general:

  • 5% or less is low in the nutrient
  • 20% or more is high in the nutrient.

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Heart Failure, fifth edition, 1-931876-31-2
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/10/2015