How to Interpret the Nutrition Facts Label

Written By: Kate Mascho, RD, LDN – Registered Dietitian, PoeCenter for Health Education

Many of us look at a food label and wonder what exactly we should look at and how to interpret the numbers and percentages listed.  The Nutrition Facts tells us the amount of energy, nutrients and ingredients found in the food item.

  1. The serving size is the first thing you should look at when reading a food label.  All the numbers on the food label are what one serving of that food item provides.  If you eat more or less than what’s listed, you have to adjust all the numbers listed on the label.
    • When looking at % Daily Values for each individual food we eat, aim for a % Daily Value of 5% or less for Fat, Saturated Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium,and if you are eating a food that has a % Daily Value of 20% or more for these nutrients,  that would mean that food is too high in that nutrient.
    • Each day we want 30% or less of our total Calories coming from Fat.  For example, if your goal is to have 2,000 kcal/day than you would aim to have 65g or less of fat/day.
  2. Choose the BEST types of Carbohydrates and choose foods LOW in sugars.
  3. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet and can help us see how closely we are to meeting our daily goals for the nutrients Fat and Carbohydrate, as well as for Cholesterol, Sodium, and Dietary Fiber.  These daily values are recommendations that help us eat a healthy, balanced amount of food each day.
  4. What’s Hidden in Your Food?  Check the List of Ingredients!  Ingredients are listed in order of greatest amount to least amount. Use the Ingredients list on the Food Label to help you find those hidden sources of Fat and Sugar!

The following ingredients are names for “added Sugars”and are found many times in processed foods:

  • corn sweetener
  • syrup, maple syrup, or malt syrup
  • corn syrup or high-fructose corn syrup
  • honey
  • molasses
  • fruit juice concentrates
  • cane sugar
  • sorghum
  • glucose
  • lactose
  • dextrose
  • fructose
  • maltose, (you can see that many sugar ingredients end in the suffix –ose)
  • Although these names might be listed separately. When added together, sugar may become the main ingredient!

Check the label for ingredients that are sources of unhealthy Fat and Cholesterol:

  • animal fat (beef, ham, pork, bacon, lamb, chicken, turkey)
  • lard
  • hardened fat or oil
  • egg and egg-yolk solids
  • cream
  • butter
  • whole-milk solids
  • palm oil, palm kernel oil
  • hydrogenated vegetable oil
  • vegetable shortening
  • coconut oil
  • cocoa
  • butter
  • Avoid foods that list these ingredients at the front of the ingredients list.

About the Poe Center

The Poe Center is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to educate and empower North Carolina children, youth and their families to make choices that increase positive health behaviors. The Poe Center’s vision is that all North Carolina children and youth become healthy adults. Since opening their facility in 1991, the Poe Center has educated more than 850,000 participants from 76 counties using innovative teaching theaters, exhibits and offsite programs. For additional information please visit

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