Reading food labels helps you determine the nutrient and caloric content of a food, as well as its serving size and ingredients.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires packaged food to display certain information on its label, such as the name and nutrition content of the food. These requirements are legally mandated by the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Fruits, vegetables and fish are exempt from these requirements.
The name and quantity of the food must appear on the front label, referred to as the principal display panel (PDP). Nutrition facts and manufacturer information may appear on the PDP or on an information label to the right of the principal display panel.
Reading the Nutritional Facts
The nutrition facts must include a product’s serving size, number of servings and caloric information. Labels also include quantities or percentage of the daily value of nutrients, such as fat, cholesterol, sodium, fiber and calcium, supplied by the product. For example, a product with 30 percent of the daily value of calcium provides almost a third of your daily calcium needs.
Food labels don’t list percent daily values for trans fat, sugar or protein because experts have not determined a recommended daily intake for these nutrients. However, the FDA recommends choosing products low in trans fat, cholesterol and saturated fat.
Food labels are required to include the name and address of the product’s manufacturer or distributor. Labels must include the complete mailing address unless the address is listed in a current telephone book.
Checking Serving Sizes
Make sure you check the serving size when you examine a product’s nutrition facts. Some products use deceptively small serving sizes to make the food seem healthier. For example, if a package contains three servings, you must multiply all the nutrition information by three to calculate the calories and nutrition in the package.
Don’t be fooled – products that appear to be a single serving, such as cans of soup, often contain two or more servings.
Reading Food Labels
Food labels may seem like a confusing jumble of numbers, nutrients and ingredients, but with practice, checking food labels becomes second nature. Reading food labels helps you make informed and healthier choices about your food, so get in the habit of examining food labels in the grocery store and at home.