The Nutrition Facts label is required to include the serving size and the amount of calories, fat (including saturated and trans fat), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein per serving. It also lists the amount of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, since these nutrients are considered significant to public health, according to the FDA.
Be sure to read the ingredients list, advises the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Ingredients are listed in order of their weight, so the first few comprise the majority of the food. Reading the ingredients list is essential when you're trying to limit things like sugar or increase your intake of nutrients, such as fiber. Keep in mind that everyone's nutritional needs are different, so consulting with your health care provider, who knows your dietary needs and health issues, is important so you know what to look for.
Check the serving size and the servings per container.
"Reading the serving size and servings per container is the most critical step because it will prevent one from overeating," says Castro. "Most consumers assume a packaged item is a single serving because we are visual eaters. In reality, most packages have at least two servings, and in some, it can be more."
The number of calories is also one of the most important parts of the label to check. "Calories refer to the serving size, NOT the servings per container," Castro says. Because caloric needs differ from person to person based on weight, physical activity, gender, and age, check with your health care provider to find out how many calories you should be eating each day.
The Percent Daily Value (%DV) is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which is the typical amount needed for an average-size, active child or adult, Castro says. Even though your own caloric needs may be different, the FDA states that the %DV is a good guide because you can get a quick idea of how much of your daily values are being met. A value of 5% or less is considered low, whereas a value of 20% or more is considered high, according to the FDA. Keep in mind that the %DV also applies to one serving.
Also check the %DV for nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, protein, and iron. "These nutrients are typically low in the Standard American Diet," says Castro.
Look at the fat. Total fat includes all types of dietary fat; trans fat, saturated fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat. Because saturated fat and trans fat are unhealthy, the FDA requires that the amount of each is listed on nutrition labels. Calories from fat are calculated by the formula of 1 gram of fat being equal to 9 calories, so if a product serving has 10 grams of fat, the calories from fat for that product will be 90.