How to Read a Nutrition Label

Wikimedia Commons/TrounceWikimedia Commons/TrounceEvery packaged food item has one - a rectangular white label that tells you the nutrition facts you need to know about a particular food. Attached to the back of a food item, a nutrition label tells you how healthy or unhealthy a food item is.

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To help you decide whether you should include certain foods in your diet, a nutrition label includes details like which nutrients and how many of each are in a serving of food, as well as how each nutrient contributes to your daily dietary requirements.

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Nutrition labels contain dietary information that can affect your short-term and long-term health. In order to maintain a healthy diet, it's important to know how to read them so that you avoid consuming foods that could be harmful to your health, and nutrition labels can be confusing

If you're not sure how to read a nutrition label, we're here to help. We've created a guide that explains what everything listed on a nutrition label means, starting from the top of the label and down to the bottom, helping you stay informed and healthy.

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Serving Size

Listed at the very top of a nutrition label, "serving size" is the first thing you'll see. The serving size is a number with a measurement, such as cups or ounces, that tells you how big one serving is based on that food. Directly below the serving size you'll see "servings per container," which tells you how many of those servings are in that package of food. The serving size and servings per container are there to help you decide how much of the food you should eat. Be aware that all of the nutrition information on the label is based on one serving.

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Percent Daily Value

Lining the far right side and bottom of a nutrition label are percentages defined as the "% (percent) daily value." These percentages let you know how the nutrients in one serving contribute to your daily dietary needs. They'll help you determine which foods are low in nutrients and which are high in nutrients. If a food has 5 percent of the daily value or less, it is low in that nutrient and not a great source for it. If it has 20 percent or more, it is high in that nutrient.

Percent daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, which is explained with an asterisk at the bottom of the label. Depending on your body type and how active you are, your calorie requirement may vary. The best way to find out how many calories you should consume daily is by talking to your doctor.

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Nutrients You Should Limit

Depending on your dietary needs, there are some nutrients that you should limit to help prevent health problems. These nutrients offer important nutritional benefits but can be harmful if excessive amounts are consumed. Listed in the middle of the label with their percent daily values, they include calories, fat (saturated and trans fats), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and sugars.

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-Haley Willard, The Daily Meal