If you or your child have questions about nutrition labels or nutrition, ask your child’s dietitian.

Which information is on a nutrition label?

A nutrition label (also called a nutrition facts label) can tell you the following:

  • Standard serving size
  • Number of servings per container
  • Number of calories per serving
  • Total amount of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, dietary fiber, sugars, and protein
  • Total amount of certain vitamins and minerals
  • Percentage of the daily value for a person requiring 2,000 calories per day.

How to read a nutrition label

  • Look for foods that are HIGH in fiber, vitamins and minerals and LOW in sugar, sodium, cholesterol and fats (especially saturated fats and trans fat).
  • Pay attention to serving size and how many servings are in the package. The nutrients listed are for one serving of that food. Packages often contain more than one serving of food.
  • Ask the dietitian about your calorie and nutrient needs. On a food label, the information listed is for people who eat 2,000 calories a day. Your child might need more or fewer, depending on their needs.
  • Read the ingredient list. This is also part of the nutrition label. Look for foods with a short ingredient list. Limit foods that start with ingredients like sugars (sugar, corn syrup, sucrose), fats, oils (vegetable oil, soybean oil), salt and chemicals. If these ingredients appear early in the list, the food is usually not a good choice. In most cases, a longer ingredient list means the food is less natural and not as good for you.

A note about vitamins and minerals…

Vitamins and minerals are important for your health. They make it possible for other nutrients to be digested, absorbed and used by the body. Since vitamins do not contain calories, they provide no energy, but are needed to promote growth and maintain health. The best way to make sure you get all the vitamins your body needs is to eat a well-balanced diet that includes foods from all major food groups. Important words to know on the nutrition label

Calories

  • Calorie: How much energy you get from that food
  • Calorie-free: Fewer than 5 calories per serving
  • Light or lite: Half the fat or 30% fewer calories than the regular version of that food
  • Low calorie: 40 calories or fewer per serving
  • Reduced or less calories: At least 25% fewer calories than the regular version of that food

Fat

  • Fat-free: Fewer than 0.5 grams (g) per serving
  • Light or lite: Half the fat or 30% fewer calories than the regular version of that food
  • Light in fat: Half the fat of the regular version of that food
  • Low fat: 3g of fat or fewer per serving
  • Low saturated fat: 1g or fewer per serving
  • Reduced fat: At least 25% less fat than the regular version of that food

Sodium and salt

  • Light in sodium: Half the sodium of the regular version of that food
  • Low sodium: 140mg of sodium or salt per serving
  • Low sodium meal: 140mg of sodium or salt per 3 ½ ounces (oz.) of that food
  • Reduced or less sodium: At least 25% less sodium than the regular version of that food
  • Sodium-free or salt-free: Fewer than 5mg of sodium or salt per serving
  • Unsalted or no added salt: No salt added during processing
  • Very low sodium: 35mg of sodium or salt per serving

Important parts of the nutrition label

There are many important parts of a nutrition label. Below, the most important parts are circled in red. If you have questions about nutrition labels, ask your care team.

A nutrition label with important parts circled in red
The important parts of a food label are circled in red in this picture.

 

Rev. 4/2019. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.