How to read food labels

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

Mac and cheese food label

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

1. Serving size. The serving size lists how many calories and nutrients are in one serving of the food. In this example, there are two servings per box. If you are eating twice the serving size, you are getting twice the calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, etc.

2. Nutrients. Nutrients show how much sodium, fiber, sugars, fat, etc., is in each serving. If you are on a restricted diet, look at the nutrients the food contains.

3. Percent of daily value. Percent of daily value shows how the amount of a nutrient in a serving of food fits into a 2,000 calorie diet.

4. Daily values chart. Daily values for diets of 2,000 or 2,500 calories appear on the lower half of the food label. These numbers list the recommended limits on total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates and dietary fiber for your diet each day. Note: Your specific recommendations may vary from these (such as amount of saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium).

Ingredients. The ingredient list is another important part of the nutrition label. It is found on the bottom of the label and shows the order of ingredients from greatest to least. When reading ingredient labels, try to avoid products that contain shortening, hydrogenated vegetable oil and partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.

When reading food labels, compare similar products to find the one with the least amount of saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. Buy products that are high in fiber content.

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