Nutrition fact labels are required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on all food products manufactured and sold in the US. These labels provide helpful information for following a healthy diet. Here is a breakdown of how to read and use the information provided on these labels.

Serving Size

This indicates the size of one serving and the number of servings in a package. It may be listed in ounces or number of pieces. Like here it is one meal and the amount for each item in the meal is listed below. All the nutrients on a label are based on the consumption of the serving size listed. 

Calories

Are the amount of energy provided by one serving of a food product. To achieve or maintain a healthy body weight it is important to balance the number of calories you eat with what your body uses. In this example, there are 640 calories for one fillet of salmon and sides. If you were to add other sides to the meal, like a salad, you need to add these calories to your total for the day. If you eat more than the serving size listed on a package you are also consuming a greater number of calories.

Nutrients

The fact label provides information on key nutrients that the food product contains. Some of them are nutrients that an individual may want to eat less of, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugar and some may be nutrients that they want to consume more of, such as dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. 

Total and added sugar: Total sugars are a combination of the sugar that occurs naturally in food, such as milk sugar (lactose) and sugar that is added during processing. Added sugars are things like dextrose, honey, and concentrated fruit juice. When the word “included” appears before the added sugar amount it means that it has been included in the total amount of sugar listed on the package.

Percent Daily Value

The %DV is a percentage of the daily value for each nutrient listed on the label per serving of the food product based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It is a reference guide that can help determine if a serving of a food is high or low in a nutrient that one wants to increase consumption of or may want to avoid. No calculation is needed to understand the %DV as it puts the number of grams, micrograms, and milligrams of a nutrient on the same scale, 0-100%. 

The US dietary guidelines recommend using the %DV as a guide in the following way. A DV of 5% or less of a nutrient per serving means it is low in that nutrient and a DV of 20% or more per serving indicates that the food is high in that nutrient. The general recommendation is to more often choose foods higher in %DV for dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium and to choose foods lower in %DV for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

Protein is not required to have a %DV unless a claim is made on the label that it is a “high protein” food or it is marketed to children under age four. Trans Fat and Total Sugars also have no %DV as no reference level for Trans Fat or recommended level of consumption of sugar has been provided by experts.

On this label indicates that this meal has a high level of fiber at 18%, iron at 20% and is relatively low in added sugars at 8%DV. Saturated fat is a bit high at 30%DV but salmon is a naturally fatty fish and has other healthful benefits.

As with any dietary recommendations speak with your doctor about your particular medical condition before making any significant changes to your diet.

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