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Understanding the nutrition facts panel

Click on any section in the food label to learn more about that section.

Macaroni & Cheese

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 cup (228g)
Serving Per Container 2
Amount Per Serving
Calories 250Calories from Fat 110
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 12g18%
Saturated Fat 3g15%
Trans Fat 3g 
Cholesterol 30g10%
Sodium 470mg20%
Total Carbohydrate 31g10%
Dietary Fiber 0g0%
Sugars 5g 
Protein 5g 
Vitamin A4%
Vitamin C2%
Calcium20%
Iron4%
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet.  Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs:
 Calories:2,0002,500
Total FatLess than65g80g
Sat FatLess than20g25g
CholesterolLess Than300mg300mg
Sodium 2,400mg2,400mg
Total Carbohydrate 300g375g
Dietary Fiber 25g30g

 

Serving size arrow top

  • To make sure you know how much you're eating, check the amount that equals one serving and the number of servings in the package.
  • You may think a small bag of chips is a serving. If you check, though, even a small bag can often have two servings in it. So, if you eat the whole bag, you need to double the calories and all the other items, like sodium and fat.

 

Calories and calories from fat arrow top

  • Calories are a measure of how much energy you get from food.
  • How many calories you should eat each day depends on your age and other things, such as how active you are. Many teenage girls need around 2,000 calories per day, but you may need more or fewer. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov to learn what's right for you.
  • In this example, there are 250 calories in a serving and two servings in the box. If you ate the whole box, you would eat 500 calories, which would leave around 1,500 for the rest of your day.
  • Over to the right, the label tells you how many of the calories in one serving come from fat. Most young people should get around 30% of their calories from fat. If you eat 2,000 calories, you would aim for around 600 calories each day from fat.

 

% Daily Value arrow top

  • For your health, experts recommend that you get certain amount of different nutrients daily. The % Daily Value (%DV) tells you what percentage of the daily recommendation you get from one serving of a food. The %DV is based on eating 2,000 calories each day. Even if you don't know exactly how many calories you eat in a day, you can still use the %DV.
    • A food that has 20% of a nutrient is an excellent source of that nutrient.
    • A food with 5% or less of the nutrient is low in the nutrient.
  • For example, this package says a serving gives you 20% of the total amount of calcium you need in a day. So, you would want to eat other foods during the day that would make up the other 80% of the calcium you need.
  • Remember, if you double your serving, you also double the percentage here.

 

Nutrients to limit arrow top

These items all may increase your risk for certain diseases, like heart disease and some cancers.

Total fat

  • You need some fat, but eating too much fat can lead to certain health problems.
  • The amount of fat you should eat each day is between 25% and 35% of your total calories. If you eat 2,000 calories each day, that means you would need around 600 calories from fat.
  • Solid fats because they have saturated and trans fats.
    • Saturated fat is a less healthy type of fat. Experts suggest you get less than 10% of your calories from saturated fats.
    • Trans fats are also not healthy. Experts say to eat as little of trans fats as possible. They often are found in foods that have "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oils, such as cookies, snack foods, and fried foods. You can learn lots more about trans fats.

Cholesterol

  • Cholesterol can cause health problems, like clogging your arteries.
  • Eat less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day.

Sodium

  • Most people should limit their sodium to 2,300 milligrams (mg) or less per day.
  • Some people should not eat more than 1,500 mg of sodium. These are African-Americans, people over age 50, and people with high blood pressure, diabetes, and chronic kidney disease.

 

Carbohydrates arrow top

Use the label to make sure you get enough of certain nutrients that are great for your health. These are dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

  • Carbohydrates provide important nutrients. If you eat 2,000 calories each day, aim for a total of 300 grams of carbohydrates.
  • Some carbohydrates are healthier than others. For example, whole wheat bread and brown rice are great choices. Read more about choosing carbs.

 

Nutrients to emphasize arrow top

Use the label to make sure you get enough of certain nutrients that are great for your health. These are dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron.

  • Calcium helps you build strong bones and can prevent bone disease. Aim for 1,300 milligrams of calcium each day. Add a zero to the % Daily Value to estimate the milligrams of calcium in a serving.
  • Dietary fiber helps with digestion and can help prevent heart disease. Also, fiber can help you feel full. Fruits and vegetables are good sources of fiber. When you read a food label, look for products that have at least 3 grams of fiber in a serving.
  • Vitamins give you healthy skin; help your body fight germs; and more.
  • Iron is important for healthy blood. Try to eat foods that add up to 100% of the recommended daily amount. In this example, one serving has 4% of the recommended amount of iron.

 

Nutrients Without a %DV: Trans Fats, Protein, and Sugars arrow top

Trans fat, sugars, and protein do not list a %DV (Daily Value) on the Nutrition Facts label. Why?

  • Trans fats are not good for your heart, so experts say to eat as little of them as possible. To limit trans fats, compare the labels of similar products and choose the foods with the lowest amount.
  • Protein is important for your health, but most Americans get plenty of protein. You will see a %DV only if the food makes a claim about protein, such as "high in protein," or if it is meant for kids under 4 years old.
  • Sugars counted on the label include sugars that are in the food naturally and sugars that are added. Avoid eating too many added sugars because they can add a lot of calories, which may cause you to gain too much weight. To find added sugars, read the ingredients part of the label. Look for words like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.

 

% Daily Value Footnote arrow top

This explains % Daily Value (%DV).

  • The %DV part of the label does not change from package to package because it shows the general nutrition advice for all Americans.
  • To get the %DV, the food company looks at how much a person ideally would have of certain nutrients each day, and then tells you how much of that total amount is in one serving of the food.
  • The box lets you know that the %DV is based on a person eating 2,000 calories each day. It also points out that each person has his or her own specific calorie needs. Generally, though, teenage girls need about 2,000 calories each day.
  • The box lists some specific nutrients and the recommended amounts for each. This information is based on the average person and on eating 2,000 calories each day.

 

Content last reviewed November 05, 2013
Page last updated December 23, 2013

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