Nutrition Facts

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Reading Nutrition Fact Info

By Ivan Nikolov

copyright © 2008 Ivan Nikolov

The Nutrition Facts label can be a useful tool in helping design a balanced and healthful diet. Learning how to read and use the nutrition label on most packaged

foods can assist people with food allergies, on special diets, interested in cutting back on fat, cholesterol, or in calories.

How did everything start

The earliest labeling guidelines date back to the 1900s when the Federal Food and Drug Act authorized the federal government to regulate the safety and quality of food. Soon afterwards the FDA required that ingredients be listed.

In 1924 the net weight and names and addresses of the manufacturer or distributor had to be stated on labels as well. By 1973 nutritional values providing information about the amounts of vitamins and minerals had to be listed.

But it was in 1990 when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was passed. The NLEA of 1990 was finally put into effect in May of 1994 after the regulations were carefully defined and brought in line to reflect the concerns of public health professionals and Americans about nutrition and its relationship to health.

Reading the info on the labels

Begin your reading at the top of the label with the serving size and number of servings per package. Compare the serving size to how much you eat. If you eat double the serving size, then you need to double the calories and other nutrient numbers, including the percent daily value.

The daily values tell you if the nutrients in a serving of food contribute a lot or a little to the recommended daily intake. The nutrients on a label are ordered from what we should limit, such as fat, cholesterol, and sodium, to those nutrients we need to make sure we get enough of, such as dietary fiber, vitamin A & C, calcium and iron.

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

At the top of each food label you'll see a serving size amount. Listed first is the serving size or the amount of food a person would need to eat to get the amount of listed nutrients.

The servings per container appears below the serving size. It tells you how many servings are in the entire package. So if one serving is 1 cup, and the whole package has 5 cups, there are five servings per package.

These quantities are based on the amount people generally eat, and they are determined by the manufacturer. Serving sizes are not necessarily recommended amounts, but common ones.

Other nutritional information on the package is based on the listed serving size. So if there are two servings in the package, and you eat the entire package, then you must double all of the nutritional amounts listed.


A calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much energy a food provides to the body. The number given on the food label indicates how many calories are in one serving.

Calories From Fat

Fat Calories is the number which appears below the calorie amount on a food label is calories from fat. This tells the total number of calories in one serving that comes from fat. The label lists fat so that people can monitor the amount of fat in their diets.

Percent Daily Values

Percent Daily Values are listed in the right-hand column in percentages, and they tell how much of a certain nutrient a person will get from eating one serving of that food. Ideally, the daily goal is to eat 100% of each of those nutrients. If a serving of a food has 18% protein, then that food is providing 18% of your daily protein needs if you eat 2,000 calories per day.

Total Fat

This number indicates how much fat is in a single serving of food and is usually measured in grams.

Saturated Fat and Trans Fat

Saturated and Trans fats tend to increase the risk for complications of heart disease such as heart attacks and strokes. The amount of saturated fat appears beneath total fat. As a general rule the saturated fat shouldn't’t exceed 30% of the daily fat intake but if the daily calorie intake consists mainly of fats it should be much less.

Beginning in 2006, manufacturers will also be required by the FDA to list trans fats separately on the label. Trans fats should be avoided because of their properties to increase the LDL or the bad cholesterol.

Unsaturated Fat

Unsaturated Fat includes Mono- and Polyunsaturated fats. These are the healthy fats. Unsaturated fats are also listed under total fat.


Cholesterol is actually a hormone. It is listed under the fat information although it falls under the group of the sterols. It's usually measured in milligrams. Too much cholesterol in the blood can cause plaque to build up inside arteries and narrow them enough to slow or block blood flow.


Sodium, a component of salt, is listed on the Nutrition Facts label in milligrams. Almost all foods naturally contain small amounts of sodium. Sodium adds flavor and helps preserve food.

Many processed foods contain greater amounts of sodium. According to the RDA for a 2000 Calorie diet the sodium intake shouldn’t exceed 2,400 mg a day. That includes the sodium naturally occurring in foods and the added table salt.

Total Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are a group of organic compounds that includes sugars, starches, celluloses, and gums and serves as a major energy source in the diet of animals. On the labels carbohydrates are listed in grams.

Dietary Fiber

Dietary Fiber, listed under total carbohydrate, has no calories and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. It helps prevent such diseases as colon cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can also have a positive effect on lowering bad or LDL cholesterol.


Sugars, also listed under total carbohydrate on food labels, are found in most foods. Sugar is composed of one glucose, and one fructose molecule. It is the main cause of tooth decay. Snack foods, candy, and soda often have large amounts of added sugars.


Protein listings tell you how much protein is in a single serving of a food and is usually measured in grams. Proteins are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs.

Foods high in protein include eggs, milk, meat, poultry, fish, cheese, yogurt, nuts, soybeans, and dried beans. Approximately 10-15% of total daily energy intake for non-training individuals should be consumed as protein. However, athletes should consume more protein to optimize performance and body composition.

Vitamin A and Vitamin C

Vitamin A and vitamin C are two especially important vitamins, and that is why they are listed on the Nutrition Facts label. The amount for each vitamin in each serving is measured in percent daily values, so if a food has 80% of vitamin C, you're getting 80% of the vitamin C you need for the day. It's required that food companies list the amounts of vitamin A and C.

Calcium and Iron

The percentages of these two important minerals are listed also and measured in percent daily values. Food companies are required to list the amounts of calcium and iron.

Calories Per Gram

These numbers show how many calories are in 1 gram of fat, carbohydrate, and protein. This information must be printed on every Nutrition Facts label for reference. This is important because this way individuals who follow strict diet plans can determine how much of the particular food they can have. They can also keep track on the total calorie intake during the day.


Ivan Nikolov, an accomplished natural bodybuilder shares a wealth of information on Natural Bodybuilding and Sports Nutrition on his website Start using his comprehensive Free Nutrition Software today!

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