March is National Nutrition Month, a time to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

Whether it’s starting the day off right with a healthy breakfast or fueling before an athletic event, the foods you choose can make a difference.

Nutrition facts are needed to make healthy food choices. Information about the amount per serving of nutrients such as saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, and fiber, are very important for people with different health concerns.

The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration has a simple tool to help you know exactly what you’re eating. It’s called the Nutrition Facts label. You will find it on all packaged foods and beverages. It serves as your guide for making choices that can affect your long-term health.

Below is all the information you need to start using the Nutrition Facts label today!

 Nutrition Label



Start with the serving size

  • Look here for both the serving size (the amount people typically eat at one time) and number of servings in the package.
  • Compare your portionsize (amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

Check out the total calories

  • Find out how many calories are in a single serving. It’s smart to cut back on calories if you are watching your weight.

Let the percent daily values be your guide

Use percent daily values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan.

  • Daily values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV of fat provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat.
  • Percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack
  • You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent DV.

The high and low of daily values

  • Low is 5 percent or less. Aim low in saturated fat, transfat, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • High is 20 percent or more. Aim high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Limit saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium

Eating less saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium may help reduce your risk for chronic disease.

  • Saturated fat and transfat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • Eating too much added sugar makes it difficult to meet nutrient needs within your calorie requirement.
  • High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure.
  • Remember to aim for low percentage DV of these nutrients.

Get enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber

  • Eat more fiber, potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems such as osteoporosis and anemia.
  • Choose more fruits and vegetables to get more of these nutrients.
  • Remember to aim high for percentage DV of these nutrients.

Additional nutrients

You know about calories, but it is also important to know about the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts label.

  • Protein: A percentage DV for protein is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, plus beans and peas, peanut butter, seeds, and soy products.
  • Carbohydrates: There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches, and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice, and pasta plus fruits and vegetables.
  • Sugars: Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) and milk (lactose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup. Added sugars will be included on the Nutrition Facts label in 2018. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americansrecommends consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars.

Check the ingredient list

Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is particularly helpful to individuals with food sensitivities, those who wish to avoid pork or shellfish, limit added sugars or people who prefer vegetarian eating.

Contributing source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and Food and Drug Administration

Knoxville Hospital & Clinics nutrition counseling service is for nonhospitalized and hospitalized patients and staffed by a registered dietitian who has expertise in adult, pediatric, and geriatric nutrition. Nutrition Services Director Kari Paige addresses a variety of nutrition-related conditions, including diabetes, blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides), hypertension, kidney disease, hypoglycemia, gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and obesity. She offers medical nutrition therapy by appointment following medical provider referral. For more information, please contact Kari at (641) 842-1519.

The information on this blog is provided for general information purposes and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, care, treatment or evaluation; nor should it be used in diagnosing a health condition. You are encouraged to consult your health care provider if you or a family member has or suspect you have a medical problem.