Translating the Nutrition Facts Label

Author

Emily Dionne, RD

Emily Dionne, RD

translating nutrition label picture

Choosing which foods to eat can be challenging. When you’re trying to eat healthfully, it can be hard to sort fact from fiction. That’s why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires most food companies to add a Nutrition Facts label to their products.

This label is like a Table of Contents for your food. It breaks down the food’s basic parts, known as the nutrients. When used correctly, it is a powerful tool. But interpreting the label can be confusing and sometimes misleading.

Here are the key things to look for on the nutrition label:

  • Check the Serving Size. Note the size of one serving and the number of servings in the package. (You may be surprised by how small the serving size on your favorite cookies or ice cream can be!)
  • Calories displays the number of calories in one serving. Ask yourself how many servings you plan to eat. If you eat two servings, multiple the number of calories by two.
  • Limit these “nutrients”: Foods high in total fat, saturated fat, and trans fats, as well as sodium and added sugar, are typically not very healthy.
  • The % Daily Value tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving of the food. These percentages reflect the amounts that are in a single serving of that food of key nutrients Americans four years of age and older should eat per day.
    • Look for foods with less than five percent of the % Daily Value for saturated fat and sodium.
    • Foods with nutrients that are 20 percent or more of the % Daily Value are considered high in those particular nutrients. Be careful to choose foods with high Daily Values of fiber and protein and not added sugar or saturated fat.
  • Ingredients, allergen information, and nutrient label claims such as “light,” “low-fat,” and “free” are also important components of a food label and help to determine which foods best fit into your healthy eating plan.

So next time you’re in the grocery store, flip to the back of your favorite foods and take a look at the Nutrition Facts. What you find may surprise you.