Using the Nutrition Facts Label
The nutrition label appears on almost every food item that can be purchased at a store. It can be a helpful
tool in choosing the most healthful foods for you. Learn to navigate the food label by taking the steps
1. Start at the top and note the Serving Size.
This is the amount of food that the nutrition facts describe.
This is not always the ideal portion size. The “Servings per
Container” is often more than a single serving and can
change among food products.
2. Look at the types of fat.
Foods that have less than 3g of Saturated Fat and less than
1g of Trans Fat per serving are considered heart healthy.
Choose foods that are low in Saturated and Trans fat.
3. Check out the Sodium.
Healthy foods have less than 300mg of Sodium per serving.
4. Look at the Total Carbohydrate.
Carbohydrates are found in fruits, vegetables, beans, grains,
and some dairy. Choose carbohydrate-containing foods with
more than 3g Dietary Fiber per serving. It is also best to
keep Sugar low, and less than 10g per serving.
5. Review the % Daily Value.
Daily Values are listed for people who eat 2000 or 2500
calories each day at the bottom of the label. Remember that
your daily needs may be higher or lower.
6. Make the Label Work for You.
It is okay to use just certain parts of the Nutrition Facts label.
Focus on the items that are most important to you and try not
to get bogged down with all the numbers.
Sample Food Label
The Ingredient List
The ingredient list on a food label lists each ingredient in descending order by weight. The ingredient that
weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. This list is helpful if you
need to avoid certain ingredients due to an allergy or intolerance, or if you want to know what type(s) of fat,
sugar or sugar substitute, sodium, or grain the food has. If you are searching for whole grain products, look to
see that “whole wheat flour” or “whole oat flour” is listed as the first ingredient rather than “wheat flour” or
Can you believe claims such as low fat, light, and cholesterol free?
The front panel of food packages often contains colorful and attention-getting claims that make a food item
sound very healthy. Some, like “natural,” don’t have a true definition, and can mean anything. But the key
words and health claims on the Nutrition Facts labels are supported by Government regulations. Studies have
shown that the values on food labels are accurate – nearly always within 10% of the actual content. Here are
some of those definitions:
Label Claim Required Content per Serving
Calorie Free Less than 5 calories
Low Calorie 40 calories or less
Light or Lite 1/3 fewer calories or 50% less fat. If more than half the calories are
from fat, fat content must be reduced 50% or more.
Light Sodium 50% less sodium
Low Sodium 140 milligrams or less
Very Low Sodium 35 milligrams or less
Sodium Free Less than 5 milligrams of sodium
Low Fat 3 grams of fat or less
Fat Free Less than ½ gram of fat
Low Cholesterol 20 Milligrams or less cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat
Cholesterol Free Less than 2 milligrams cholesterol and 2 grams or less saturated fat
High Fiber 5 grams of fiber or more
Sugar Free Less than ½ gram of sugar
What About Health Claims for Heart Disease, Cancer, Blood Pressure and Osteoporosis?
Health claims on labels must either be FDA-approved or else say that they are not FDA-approved. Approved
health claims are supported by strong scientific evidence.
Claims Food Requirements
Heart Disease Low in saturated fat and cholesterol. High in fiber from fruits,
vegetables and grains. At least 6.25 grams soy protein.
Cancer Low in fat; high in dietary fiber or vitamins A or C
High Blood Pressure Low in sodium. Good source of potassium.
Osteoporosis High in calcium or high in vitamin D
Other health claims that do not have strong scientific evidence must have a disclaimer such as “This claim has
not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure,
or prevent any disease.”
What is the most important thing you learned from this handout?
What changes will you make in your diet/lifestyle, based on what you learned today?
If you are a UW Health patient and have more questions please contact UW Health at one of the phone numbers
listed below. You can also visit our website at www.uwhealth.org/nutrition.
Nutrition clinics for UW Hospital and Clinics (UWHC) and American Family Children’s Hospital (AFCH) can
be reached at: (608) 890-5500
Nutrition clinics for UW Medical Foundation (UWMF) can be reached at: (608) 287-2770
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you have any
questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This is not medical advice.
This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each person’s health needs are different, you
should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using this information. If you have an emergency, please call
911. Copyright © 4/2017 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Clinical
Nutrition Services Department and the Department of Nursing. HF#302