How to Read Food Labels


Learn More About Heart Health

Go Red For Women

American Heart Association

nutrition facts labelWhen you go grocery shopping, take time to read the nutrition labels on your purchases. Compare nutrients and calories in one food to those in another. The information may surprise you. You want to make sure that you aren't bringing home foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol!


One easy way to do "healthier" grocery shopping is to spend more time in the outer aisles of the store where fresh foods are kept. Spend less time in the middle aisles where packaged foods, snacks and soft drinks are stocked.


How do I read food labels?


Most foods in the grocery store must now have a nutrition label and list of ingredients. Claims like "low cholesterol" and "fat free" can be used only if a food meets legal set by the government. The "Nutrition Facts" label includes the following types of information:


Serving Size

If you eat double the serving size listed, you need to double the calories, fat and nutrients. If you eat half the size shown, cut the calories and nutrients in half.


Total Fat

Most people need to cut back on calories and fat! Too much fat may contribute to heart disease and cancer. The label gives you the number of grams of fat per serving (so you can track your daily intake) and the number of calories from fat. If you are overweight or trying to lose weight, your goal is an overall intake of no more than 25 to 35 percent of your total calories from fat, with less than 7 percent as saturated fat and less than 1 percent as trans fat. You should keep track of the amount of calories you consume and the amount of calories you burn.


Saturated Fat

This is one part of the total fat in food. It's a key nutrient for raising your blood cholesterol and your risk of heart disease and stroke. Eat less saturated fat!



Too much of it in your diet may lead to too much of it in your blood. And too much cholesterol in your blood can lead to heart disease and stroke. It's best to eat less than 300 mg each day. People with heart disease, high LDL cholesterol levels or who are taking cholesterol medication should consume less than 200 mg of cholesterol per day.



Watch for both natural and added sodium. Ordinary table salt is sodium chloride - 40 percent sodium by weight. Healthy adults should take in less than 2,300 mg of sodium each day. That's equal to about 1 tsp. of salt. Some people - African Americans, middle-aged and older adults, and people with high blood pressure - need less than 1,500 mg per day.


Dietary Fiber

Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, peas and beans are good sources and can help reduce the risk of heart disease.



Where there's animal protein, there's also fat and cholesterol. Eat small portions.


Vitamins and Minerals

Eating a variety of foods will help you reach your daily goal of 100 percent of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.


Daily Value

The daily values are guides for people who eat 2,000 calories each day. If you eat more or less than that, your daily value may be higher or lower. Choose foods with a low percent daily value of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Try to reach 100 percent of the daily value of total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.


Do You Have Any Shopping Tips?


Whether it's cutting back on sodium or eating more fruits and vegetables, do you have any grocery shopping tips or recipes you use to help you eat more healthfully? Share them here.