Cheat Sheet: Reading Nutrition Labels

March 15, 2023

Individuals look at nutrition labels for many different reasons. Whatever the reason, however, it is critical that the information on the label can be read quickly and efficiently so individuals can make wiser decisions towards a healthier diet. This includes knowing which nutrients to limit, which to eat more of, and how to compare food choices to pick the healthiest alternative.

The serving size is the first place individuals should begin looking when checking the nutrition facts, as it reveals the portion the nutrition facts will equate to. For example, if one cup of food contains one hundred calories, then 1.5 cups will provide 150 calories.


Calories measure the amount of energy obtained from the serving of food. Many Americans take in more calories than needed while not meeting many of the recommended amounts of nutrients that help support a healthy diet. By learning to manage calories better, weight management comes easier. A general guideline for calories is that forty calories per serving are low, one hundred calories per serving are average, and four hundred calories or more per serving is high. The information is a general reference based on a 2,000 calories per day diet.

Nutrients To Limit

Nutrients listed first are generally the ones individuals should limit, such as saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sugars, and sodium. Eating a diet high in fats and sodium can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and high blood pressure. However, some different fats can be consumed as a healthier alternative. Health experts, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA), recommend individuals lower their intake of saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol as much as possible in part of maintaining a nutritionally balanced diet.

Get These Nutrients

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a lot of Americans do not get enough nutrients like protein, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, vitamin E, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating the recommended amount of these nutrients can improve overall health and reduce the risk of quite a few diseases.

Although there is a recommended amount of nutrients everyone should strive for, the truth is everybody is different, and everyone’s body absorbs nutrients differently. For best results, individuals should get a blood test done to check levels of vitamins and minerals in their blood to see what is high and which nutrients they are lacking.

Percent Daily Value

The percent daily values tend to be based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Although percent daily value displays the average amount of nutrients everyone should meet, every individual's needs may vary. However, it is a great place to start. The nutrition label does the math, so the milligrams or grams do not need to be added up throughout the day, instead of having to total one hundred percent. A quick guide to understanding the percent daily value of nutrients is if the food contains five percent or less, it is low in nutrients, and if it includes twenty percent or more, it is high in nutrients.

Use Labels To Compare Food Choices

Knowing how to read and understand nutrition labels will help when comparing food options to make the healthiest choice. For instance, two different cans of soup will generally contain the same amount of food and display the same serving size. With this in mind, each nutrient can be compared from can to can to decide which can of soup to purchase.

Remember to avoid sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sugars when possible. Also look for foods high in dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Many fortified foods will contain many vitamins and minerals that may be hard to find without the use of supplements.

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