1. What's a serving size?
Make sure you check to see how many servings are in a package. The label information in this section is only for one serving, and there are often several servings in each container. For example, a large bottle of soda may have 300 calories per serving, but have as many as three servings per bottle. That could add up to 900 calories in just one bottle!
Remember that serving sizes can vary in number as well as in size, containing many servings per package. On this box of macaroni and cheese in the food label we have been using as an example, the label displays information for one serving even though the package contains two full servings.
To learn more about serving and portion sizes, be sure to read the section on portion sizes.
2. Check the calories
Calories serve as a measurement of how much energy you are getting from a serving of food. It is common for people to consume more calories than they need in a day without eating enough healthy nutrients. Here's a quick guide to calories:
- 40 calories = low
- 100 calories = moderate
- 400 or more calories = high
Remember that most people only need about 2,000 calories a day. Aim to eat three meals a day that fall around the 500- or 600-calorie range and a few snacks if you get hungry between meals while also maximizing your nutrient intake. Think about the poor choices out there, like a large fast-food burger. Some of them come in at close to 800 calories-without French fries. That is nearly half of your day's calories! Eating too many calories on a daily basis will lead to obesity for most people.
3. Limit fats, sodium and cholesterol
These three items are highlighted in yellow. Too much of any or all of these can result in chronic diseases. It is recommended to keep your intake of these nutrients to a minimum-check the footnote for the recommended daily value of each.
Look for lower percentages in the right-hand column of the label. This example shows about 20 percent of both sodium and total fat in just one serving. If you consumed this box of macaroni and cheese, you would be consuming almost half your day's worth of sodium and fat.
4. Increase you intake of healthy nutrients
These nutrients are an important part of a healthy diet. Food products with high levels of these vitamins and minerals are not only necessary as part of a healthy diet, they can also help lower the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other health issues. Focus on including plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain products in your diet.
5. The Importance of the Footnote
This section of the food label will never change from product to product, and it serves as a great measuring-stick for maintaining a healthy diet. It is there in order to show the recommended dietary advice for all Americans. It also provides you with the total daily value numbers that add up to the 100 percent daily value. The daily values label here shows recommended amounts of fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and fiber, as well as applicable nutrients of this food product, for both a 2,000- and 2,500-calorie diet.