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Guide to the Nutrition Facts Label
This Nutrition Facts label is for a particular brand of macaroni and cheese. It would normally appear on the back of the package. The numbers and percentages on it are significant. They tell you whether this brand of macaroni and cheese is a good food choice for you as part of your overall diet on any given day.
This page shows you how to compare numbers on a single label and then how to compare corresponding numbers between labels. These comparisons enable you to make informed food choices for better health.
As you click on each line a explanation for that item will open. Click away from the box to close it.
Health Professionals, you can order The AICR Guide to the Nutrition Facts Label in bulk quantities for your clients.
Line 1: Serving Size 1 cup (228g)
Don’t skip this. It is the first thing you should check. It tells you the size of one serving. Compare it immediately to line, which tells you how many servings of that size are in the package or container.
The other numbers on the label lines 4 through 18 refer to one serving only. If you actually eat 2 or 3 servings at one time, you should multiply each of those numbers by 2 or 3.
In our example, one serving of macaroni and cheese equals one cup. There are, however, two servings in this package. If you eat the contents of the whole package at one meal, you should multiply each of the numbers between lines 4 and 18 by 2 to get an accurate picture of what you are consuming.
Line 4: Calories 250/Calories from Fat 110
Line 19: Calories 2,000/2,500
Line 4 tells you how many calories are in one serving of the labeled food. The point of comparison, 2,000 calories per day, is found in line 19.
Line 4 of the macaroni and cheese label indicates 250 calories in one serving. That is a little more than 1/10 of a total daily intake of 2,000 calories. One serving leaves room on the plate for some other items. Two servings plus other items may push the meal beyond an appropriate number of calories for one of your day’s three meals plus snacks.
Note: The 2,000-calorie diet relates to an average-size, active person. At line 19, the label also offers information on a 2,500 calorie per day diet for a larger, active person. In fact, your calorie intake may be higher or lower than either of these scales. If so, you may want to make mental adjustments when considering the numbers on each line.
(The limits and goals cited relate to a diet of 2,000 calories per day. The limits and goals may be higher for a 2,500 diet.)
Line 4 lists calories that come from fat rather than from carbohydrate or protein. This number can be compared with the total number of calories in one serving, which is listed on the same line.
For example, line 4 of our macaroni and cheese label indicates that one serving contains 110 calories from fat and a total of 250 calories. That means that almost half (44 percent) of the calories in this item are from fat.
Nutritionists recommend that less than 30 percent of a day’s intake of calories come from fat. That does not mean that every item eaten during the day should have less than 30 percent of calories from fat. But if you choose to eat even one serving of this brand of macaroni and cheese, it would be a good idea to choose items lower in fat to accompany it and for other meals.
Line 11: Total Carbohydrate 31g/10%
Line 24: Total Carbohydrate 300g
Line 11 includes all added and natural carbohydrates in a single serving of the labeled item. This ﬁgure can be compared with the Line 24 is the recommended daily total for carbohydrates.
The ﬁgure in line 24 is 300 grams. Note that the phrase “less than” does not appear. This is a recommended total to achieve. Carbohydrates will make up the bulk of your diet if you eat mostly vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans. They should make up 45-65 percent of your 2,000 calories, leaving less room for fat.
Compare the amount of carbohydrate in the macaroni and cheese label (31 grams) with the total recommended in line 24 (300 grams). That’s 1/10 or 10 percent. Since you are trying to achieve the limit, that 10 percent is only a middling score.
Note: Diabetic patients should consult with a registered dietitian or their physician to determine an appropriate carbohydrate intake.
Line 9: Cholesterol 30mg/10%
Line 22: Cholesterol Less Than 300mg
Line 9 tells you how much cholesterol there is in a labeled item.
In our example, the label indicates 30 milligrams of cholesterol in this macaroni and cheese. The recommended limit for cholesterol is less than 300 milligrams. That means this product has 1⁄10 of the daily limit. In fact, the label gives you the 10 percent ﬁgure.
Now compare that 30 milligrams with the amount of cholesterol in the same serving size of similar products. Try to ﬁnd one that has less cholesterol per serving.
Nutritionists advise us to choose foods that keep consumption of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible.
Line 6: Total Fat 12g/18%
Line 20: Total Fat Less than 65g
Line 6 refers to the sum of different fats included in one serving of the labeled item. Total fat can be compared ﬁrst with the recommended limit for a day’s consumption of fat in line 20.
For example, line 20 of the macaroni and cheese label tells us that the recommended limit for total fat consumption is less than 65 grams. Line 6 indicates that there are 12 grams of fat in one serving. So the total fat in this possible food choice is just under 1⁄5 of the daily total. In fact, the label tells us the actual percentage is 18 percent.
When examining percentages on the Nutrition Facts label, 20 percent is considered high and 5 percent, low. There may be a packaged macaroni and cheese or another packaged food choice that has a lower percentage of fat. You can compare that 18 percent with the corresponding ﬁgure for total fat for the same serving size on other labels.
Line 12: Dietary Fiber 0g/ 0%
Line 25: Dietary Fiber 25g
Line 12 tells you the amount of dietary ﬁber in one serving of the labeled item.
Line 25 tells you the recommended amount.
Note that the phrase “less than” does not precede this recommendation. That means that 25 grams is a goal to achieve.
Line 12 on the macaroni and cheese label indicates there is 0 ﬁber in one serving. This food choice won’t help you reach that 25 grams a day for good health.
You could add a variety of ﬁber-rich vegetables and whole grains to your plate. Or compare that 0 grams to the ﬁgure for dietary ﬁber on other food labels to ﬁnd another choice with more fiber for your meal.
Line 14: Protein 5g
Line 14 lists the amount of protein in a labeled item. As with sugar, the label offers no ﬁgure with which to compare this number. Protein is high in meats, dairy and available in many vegetables. Most Americans get more than enough.
In the macaroni and cheese label, line 14 shows 5 grams of protein. That’s not a lot. But most people eating a typical American diet would make up the difference during the course of three meals.
Note: People who have recently chosen a vegetarian diet may need to refer to this line. They should try to consume 50 grams of protein per day. One serving of this packaged macaroni and cheese would provide only 5 grams or 1/10 of the recommended total.
Line 7: Saturated Fat 3g/15%
Line 21: Sat Fat Less than 20g
Saturated fat helps raise your cholesterol level.
Line 7 tells you how much of this fat is in one serving of a labeled item. Compare that ﬁgure with the limit listed in line 21.
For example, line 21 on the macaroni and cheese label indicates less than 20 grams is the recommended daily limit for saturated fat. One serving contains 3 grams, which isn't terrible but is not good either. Remember, 20 percent is considered high and 5 percent, low. The label gives you the exact percentage, which is 15 percent.
Always look for the product with the lowest level of saturated fat. You can compare the 3 grams or 15 percent with the corresponding ﬁgures for saturated fat on other labels.
Note: Trans fat also helps to raise cholesterol level. So the harmful effect of saturated fat is compounded by the presence of trans fat in the same product. Click on the trans fat link on the label to find out more.
Line 10: Sodium 470mg/20%
Line 23: Sodium Less than 2,400mg
Line 10 indicates how much sodium there is in a single serving of a labeled product.
Line 23 is the recommended limit.
The macaroni and cheese label indicates the presence of 470 milligrams in one serving. The limit listed in line 23 is less than 2,400 milligrams per day. So one serving contains roughly 1/5 or 20 percent of the daily limit. Remember, 5 percent is considered low and 20 percent is considered high.
Now make the second comparison. Look at the label on a similar product to ﬁnd out if the amount of sodium for the same serving size is lower.
Note: The Institute of Medicine recently lowered the recommended limit on sodium to 2,300 milligrams. Some people may be advised to consume substantially less (as low as 1,500 mg) for blood pressure control.
Line 13: Sugars 5g
There is no recommended limit (or goal) for sugar consumption offered on the Nutrition Facts label. To get an idea of how much sugar a serving of this product contains, you have to look beyond the information offered on the label.
For example, in line 13 our macaroni and cheese label indicates 5 grams of sugar in a single serving. There are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon. So this item is fairly low in sugar barely more than a single teaspoon. Furthermore, much of it is probably naturally occurring sugar.
On the other hand, many soft drinks contain as many as 32 grams of sugar, which equals 8 teaspoons of sugar added to the product.
Another way of assessing the sugar level in a serving of the same product is to examine the list of ingredients, which is usually found beneath the Nutrition Facts label. If terms like sugar, honey, corn syrup, fructose, maltose or dextrose are listed, sugar has been added to the product. If any or several of those terms appear near the top of the list, a lot of sugar has been added.
Added sugar adds calories without any nutritional value. Nutritionists advise us to keep our consumption of added sugars as low as possible.
Line: 8: Trans Fat 1.5g
Beginning in 2006, food manufacturers are required to offer information on trans fat on the Nutrition Facts label. The only fact required is the number of grams present in a single serving.
No limit has been set for trans fat. So there is no point of comparison on the label. However, trans fat acts like saturated fat. It raises your bad cholesterol level. You can therefore add the number for trans fat to the number for saturated fat. Then compare the total to the limit for saturated fat in line 21.
For example, add the 1.5 grams of trans fat on our macaroni and cheese label to the 3 grams of saturated fat. The total is 4.5 grams or roughly 1/5 or 20 percent of the recommended limit of less than 20 grams for saturated fat.
The presence of 1.5 grams of trans fat in this food item raises the level of undesirable fat to a high level.
Line 15: Vitamin A 4%
Line 16: Vitamin C 2%
Line 17: Calcium 20%
Line 18: Iron 4%
Lines 15 through 18 list some of the vitamins and minerals that may be present in a labeled food. Manufacturers are required to list Vitamins A and C and the minerals calcium and iron. Others may be listed if a food is fortiﬁed with them, a claim is made about them, or the manufacturer chooses to do so.
In this part of the label, the information that allows a signiﬁcant comparison is lacking, but the comparison has been made for you. For example, in line 15 of our macaroni and cheese label, the amount of Vitamin A is described as 4 percent. That means one serving contains 4 percent of the amount recommended for daily intake by the Food and Nutrition Board.
Lines 15 through 18 tell us that one serving of this macaroni and cheese is not a good source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C or iron. But it does provide 1⁄5 of the amount of calcium recommended for daily intake.
Note: It's always more complicated than you think. The percentages in lines 15-18 do allow you to compare the level of vitamins or minerals in different products. But they do not represent an accurate percentage of the recommended amount for daily consumption. They don't reﬂect nutrition recommendations developed since 1968 recommendations that are based on more recent research.