Nutrition labeling

Alternative names
Food labeling

Information found on the labels of most packaged foods.

Serving size:
Based on an average portion size. Similar food products have similar serving sizes to make comparison between products easier.

Amounts per serving:
The Calories and the calories from fat are listed. These numbers will help consumers make decisions about fat intake. The list of nutrients (total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugars, protein) includes those most important to the health of today’s consumer. The amount, in grams (g) or milligrams (mg), per serving of these nutrients is listed to their immediate right.

Vitamins and minerals:
Only two vitamins, A and C, and two minerals, calcium and iron, are required on the food label. Food companies can voluntarily list other vitamins and minerals in the food. When vitamins or minerals are added or when a vitamin or mineral claim is made, those nutrients must be listed on the nutrition label.

Percent daily value:
The amounts of vitamins and minerals are listed as a Percent Daily Value on the nutrition label. The Percent Daily Value for vitamins and minerals gives a general idea of how much of a vitamin or mineral a serving contributes to the total daily diet. For example, if the Percent Daily Value for Vitamin C of all the foods you eat in a day adds up to 100%, your diet meets the recommendation for Vitamin C.

Food Sources
The U. S. Government mandates food labels on most packaged foods. The label offers complete, useful and accurate nutrition information. They encourage food manufacturers to improve the quality of their products and help the consumer make healthier food choices. They provide a consistent format to help you directly compare the nutritional content of various foods. Food labels have the title “Nutrition Facts.”


The Daily Values section shows how a food fits into the overall daily diet. The value of the nutrient is given in percentages. The Percent Daily Value gives the food’s nutritional content based on a 2,000-calorie diet. You can use this to quickly compare foods and see how the amount of a nutrient in a serving of food fits into a 2,000-calorie diet.

For example, a food that has 13 grams of fat with a Percent Daily Value of 20% means that 13 grams of fat is 20%, or one-fifth, of the total daily fat recommended for a person who eats 2,000 calories per day.

Near the bottom of the label you will see a list of six nutrients and the recommended daily intakes. The daily values are listed for 2,000 and for 2,500 calories. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending of your calorie needs.

The amounts of the first four nutrients - total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium - are maximum amounts. That is why the list says “less than” before the number. The amounts of total carbohydrate and dietary fiber are minimum amounts. This is exactly the same on all food labels that carry it. You can use it as a reference.

A nutrient content claim is a word or phrase on a food package that makes a comment about the nutritional value of the food. The claim will mean the same for every product. The following are some approved nutrient claims.

Calorie terms:

  • Low-calorie       o 40 calories or less per serving  
  • Reduced-calorie       o at least 25% fewer calories per serving when compared with a similar food  
  • Light, Lite       o one-third fewer calories or 50% less fat per serving; if more than half the calories are from fat, fat content must be reduced by 50% or more

Sugar terms:

  • Sugar-free       o less than 1/2 gram sugars per serving  
  • Reduced sugar       o at least 25% less sugar per serving when compared with a similar food.

Fat terms:

  • Fat-free       o less than 1/2 gram fat per serving  
  • 100% fat free       o meets requirements for fat free  
  • Low-fat       o 3 grams or less per serving  
  • Reduced-fat       o at least 25% less fat when compared with a similar food

Cholesterol terms:

  • Cholesterol-free       o less than 2 milligrams cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.  
  • Low-Cholesterol       o 20 milligrams or less cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving

Sodium terms:

  • Sodium-free       o less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving  
  • Salt-free       o meets requirements for sodium-free

For the first time, you will see FDA approved and regulated Health claim phrases. A health claim is a food label message that describes the relationship between a food or food component, such as fat, calcium, or fiber, and a disease or health-related condition.

The government has authorized health claims for seven diet and health relationships that are backed by extensive scientific evidence.
1. Calcium and osteoporosis
2. Fiber-containing grain products, fruits, vegetables and cancer
3. Fruits, vegetables, and cancer
4. Fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain fiber and coronary heart disease
5. Fat and cancer
6. Saturated fat and cholesterol and coronary heart disease.
7. Sodium and hypertension

An example of a valid health claim you may see on a high-fiber cereal product food label would be: “Many factors affect cancer risk; eating a diet low in fat and high in fiber may lower the risk of this disease.”

For further information on specific health claims refer to the information on diet and health.

Food manufacturers are required to list ingredients in descending order by weight, from the most to the least. People with food sensitivities can obtain useful information from the ingredient list on the label.

The ingredient list will include, when appropriate:

  • FDA-approved color additives  
  • sources of protein hydrolysates  
  • caseinate as a milk derivative in foods that claim to be nondairy (such as coffee whiteners)

Most manufacturers offer a toll-free number to answer questions about specific food products and their ingredients.

Many foods do not have information on them. Some foods are exempt from food labeling. These include:

  • restaurant foods  
  • hospital cafeterias  
  • airline foods  
  • food service vendors (such as mall cookie vendors, sidewalk vendors, and vending machines)  
  • ready-to-eat food prepared primarily on the site  
  • bulk food that is not resold  
  • food produced by small businesses  
  • medical foods  
  • plain coffee and tea  
  • flavor extracts  
  • food colors  
  • spices  
  • other foods that contain no significant amounts of any nutrients

Stores may voluntarily list nutrients for many raw foods. The 20 most commonly eaten raw fruits and vegetables and seafood will display nutrition information in the store. Nutrition labeling for single-ingredient raw products, such as ground beef and chicken breasts, is also voluntary.

A toll-free consumer hot line of the American Dietetics Association National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics is available to answer questions on the new food Labels. They operate between 10AM and 5PM Eastern time, Monday through Friday. The number is 1-800-366-1655.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.