Want to count calories? Figure out how much protein you're getting? Each packaged food sold in the U.S. has a nutrition facts panel printed on its label, and that holds the key to understanding what you're really eating. Here's what each nutrition facts label can tell you.
The first bit of information under the large, bold "Nutrition Facts" heading explains what the manufacturer considers to be a serving size and how many servings are actually included in the package. This can be eye-opening if you thought that a package contained a single serving. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda is easy to swig down at one sitting, but a serving is considered 8 ounces -- so you're actually getting 2.5 servings from one bottle.
The calories information listed is per serving, not per package. That means that if a package contains 4 servings, you must multiple the number you see by 4 to determine the number of calories you'll ingest if you eat it all. Calories from fat is also listed, but it is easier to understand your fat intake from the next section of the label.
Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein
The three building blocks that your body needs are fat, carbohydrates and protein, but too much of one can be unhealthy. The label will list these, along with cholesterol and sodium, in grams and as a percentage of your recommended daily intake. In general, 5 percent or less of your daily value is considered low, while 20 percent or more is high. Here's everything under this section:
The nutrition facts label also lists how much of your daily values of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron are included in a food. Some nutrition facts labels will include other vitamins and minerals, but they are not required to do so.
The bottom of the nutrition facts label goes into a little more detail about what the percentage of daily values means for you and what's recommended for a 2,000-calorie diet and a 2,500-calorie diet. (The former is about what a moderately active woman should consume in a day, and the latter is close to what a moderately active man or very active woman should consume.) This can help you plan your food intake for an entire day.
If you are looking for the nutrition information on a food and you don't have the label in front of you, or it's an item like fresh meat, fruits or vegetables that isn't packaged with a nutrition facts label, you can easily look up the information for each item at UCLAHealth.org. Contact us for help or more information.