7 basics of the nutrition label

Reading nutrition label

The nutrition label on the back of packaged food can be a very useful tool to improve or maintain your health. Individuals with chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease can use it to help limit certain foods that may be harmful to them. It also is helpful for those who want to improve their diet and overall health. 

Here are seven pieces of valuable information you can find on a nutrition label. 

Nutrition label1. Serving size 
  • The number of servings per container will be listed, as well as the serving size. 
  • All of the calorie and nutrient information on the label applies to one serving. 

Tip: The actual serving size may be considerably smaller than what you are used to eating. Use measuring cups and spoons and a small food scale to ensure your serving size is correct. 

2. Calories per serving 
  • Use discretion when eating higher-calorie foods. 
  • This number can be useful when comparing different brands of the same food. 
3. Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat 
  • Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Most of your foods should have less than 2 grams of saturated fat per serving and no trans fats. A range of 11-15 grams of saturated fat (or less than 10% of the daily value) is recommended for those who eat about 2000 calories daily. 
  • If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, then it has trans fats. A food that has less than ½ gram of trans fat per serving may still be trans-fat-free. If you eat more than one serving of that food daily, your trans-fat intake could add up. 

Tip: Try to choose foods with less than 5 grams of total fat per serving. For someone who is eating about 2000 calories daily, a fat intake of 50-75 grams (about 35% of daily value) is a good range. Choose foods that have heart-healthy fats, which include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. 

4. Sodium 
  • In general, most people should eat less than 2300 milligrams of sodium daily. Those with congestive heart failure, kidney disease or other chronic illnesses may need even less sodium. 
  • A food is considered low in sodium if it has less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. 
5. Dietary Fiber 
  • The goal for dietary fiber is 25-30 grams per day. 
  • Try to include several foods with at least 5 grams of fiber in your daily intake. 

Tip: High-fiber breakfast cereals, beans, lentils and dried fruits are good sources of fiber. 

6. Total Sugars / Added Sugars 
  • Added sugars are listed under total carbohydrates and include foods like sugar, honey, corn syrup, molasses, raw sugar, etc. 
  • Women should consume less than 25 grams of added sugar daily, men less than 37.5 grams. 
  • People with diabetes and pre-diabetes need to be careful with added sugars as added sugars can cause a significant increase in blood sugar levels. 
7. % Daily Value 
  • The % Daily Value (DV) guide tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving in terms of the daily recommended amount. 
  • The % DV is based on 2000 calories per day. You may need more or fewer calories. 
  • If you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as sodium or saturated fat), choose foods with a lower % DV (5% or less). If you want to consume more of a nutrient (fiber, for example), choose foods with a higher % DV (20% or more). 

Find more tips from Northside Hospital Nutrition Services. 


  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Heart-Healthy Eating: Label Reading Tips." 
  • Klemm, Sarah, RDN, CD, LDN. "The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label." March 2022. 


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Terri Duncan, RDN, LD picture

Terri Duncan, RDN, LD

Specialties: Nutrition

Terri Duncan is a clinical dietitian with Northside Hospital Nutrition Services.

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