Start with the Serving Size

  • Look here for both the serving size (the amount for one serving) and the number of servings in the package.
  • Compare your portion size (the 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 and Fat

  • Find out how many calories are in a single serving and the number of calories from fat. It’s smart to cut back on calories and fat if you are watching your weight.  Try to keep the calories from fat below a third of the total calories.

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

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

Limit Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium

Eating less fat, cholesterol and sodium may help reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

  • Total fat includes saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat.
  • Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
  • 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, vitamins A and C, 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 fat and calories, but it is important to also know the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts Panel.

  • Protein Most Americans eat more protein than they need, so a percentage Daily Value is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans, peanut butter and nuts.
  • 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) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup.

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 such as soy, wheat, nuts, and shellfish.  It is also useful to help those who wish to limit added sugars, sulfites, color additives  or people who prefer vegetarian eating.


For example, this Broccoli Cheese Campbell’s condensed soup label only contains the Nutrition Facts for the condensed soup yet the directions call for the addition of a can of milk.  Even using skim milk, this effectively doubles the calories of the soup.  This is not stated ANYWHERE on the label!

And, this one is one of my favorites! Great Value No Stick Cooking Spray:  check out the serving size !  1/4 second spray?  Who knows what 1/4 second is and who could possibly coat a pan or casserole dish with that amount?  Don’t be fooled, you are adding some fat to your cooking by coating the pan or casserole dish!  I also know someone who buys the butter flavor no stick spray, gets lite popcorn and liberally sprays the popcorn thinking it has zero calories!


Adapted from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics


am very careful about what I eat, but I am not losing weight. Why not?
Your question may have a simple answer. Have you considered what you are drinking? How many cups of sugar and cream-laced coffee or cans of sugary soda do you drink each day? Some drinks can have as many as 500 calories (Like those Tim Horton’s Iced-cappuccinos). If you consider that most people need somewhere between 1800 and 2500 calories to maintain their weight (and less to lose weight), you can see how what you are drinking might affect your success.

A recent study showed that 21% of Americans’ calorie intake comes from the beverages they drink. Americans are drinking more sweetened beverages than ever before. Between 1977 and 2001, the proportion of calories obtained from calorically sweetened soft drinks and fruit drinks (sweetened fruit beverages, not 100% fruit juices) increased three times.

Your body does need liquids to keep it healthy. The amount of liquid you need depends on your health and body size. Meeting all of your fluid needs with beverages containing sugar is not a good idea.

What is the best thing to drink?

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

For calorie-free hydration, you cannot beat good old water. Water is one of the best fluids to drink, because it contains no calories, no artificial flavors or colors, and no sugar.


Other calorie-free beverages, such as black coffee and tea without sugar or milk, are good beverage choices. Although these beverages do contain caffeine, they do not appear related to any health problems. The Beverage Guidance Panel recommends you limit your intake of caffeine-containing drinks to three to four 8-fluid-ounce (fl oz) servings/day.

Artificially sweetened teas, lemonades, and sodas also are calorie-free choices that are preferred over sugary drinks, such as soda, fruit punches, and regular lemonade. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved artificial sweeteners are considered safe. Using this type of beverage can add variety and taste without the extra calories.

milk glasses

Low-fat milk, skim milk, soy milk, and 100% fruit juices are good beverage choices, because they are loaded with nutrients your body needs. However, it is important to realize that these drinks contain calories. Too many calories, even healthy ones, can result in weight gain. Therefore, you should limit yourself to three 8-fl-oz servings of low-fat milk/day and one 4- to 6-fl-oz serving of juice/day to help meet your nutritional needs without adding to your waistline.

What about sports drinks?
Sports drinks contain sugar and also small amounts of nutrients. Most experts agree that sports drinks can replenish nutrients, such as sodium and potassium, when you exercise for more than 60 minutes. However, sports drinks do contain around 150 calories for 12 fl oz. For the average exerciser, the electrolytes lost during exercise are easily replenished through eating a healthful diet. Unless your exercise is long and intense, water is a great calorie-free way to quench your thirst.

Does alcohol have more calories than soda?

red wine, sunny afternoon
Alcohol and soda are both high in calories. A 12-fl-oz beer has about the same number of calories as a 12-fl-oz cola. However, a 1.5-fl-oz serving of spirits (gin, vodka, etc) has about 100 calories. Combine that with 8 fl oz of a mixer and your drink will have more than 200 calories. Large specialty drinks can contain up to 500 calories. To save calories, drink diet soda or water, use diet sodas as mixers, or drink lite beer or wine. Remember, the larger the portion of any drink, regular or alcoholic, the more calories you will consume.

I love specialty coffees. Are they healthy?

Latte, closup
Many of these delicious coffee and tea drinks are loaded with calories. For example, a 16-fl-oz café mocha with no whipped cream contains 240 calories. Whipped cream, cream, and whole milk add many calories to any coffee or tea drink. Instead, order a smaller drink with skim milk to save fat and calories.

The following table shows the number of calories in 12 fl oz of several different types of drinks. This 12-fl-oz serving is the size of a beer or soda can.

Beverage (12 fl oz) Calories Beverage (12 fl oz) Calories
Fruit punch 192 Whole milk 150
Lemonade 168 Fat-free milk 90
Kool-Aid® 174 Orange juice 168
Tonic water 124 Grape juice 255
Sports drink 99 Coffee 0
Cola 136 Tea 0
Fruit smoothie 225 Beer 139
Frappuccino® 320 Lite beer 110
Diet cola 0 Wine (3.5 fl oz) 70


Fresh vegetables falling

RED: Extreme moderation or not at all
While many of these foods are nutritionally solid, they are greater than 30% fat and/or calorically dense.

Use the following foods with extreme moderation or not at all:

  • Bacon
  • Black olives
  • Blue cheese
  • Croutons
  • Eggs
  • Feta cheese
  • Green olives
  • Marinated salads
  • Nuts
  • Pepperoni
  • Raisins
  • Reduced-calorie dressings
  • Regular salad dressing
  • Salads made with mayonnaise
  • Shredded cheese
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Tofu

Tossed Salad and Salad Dressings

YELLOW: In moderation
While many of these foods are full of important nutrients, they are also 20%–30% fat and/or moderately calorically dense (especially when compared to the GREEN category of foods).

Use the following foods in moderation:

  • Beets
  • Chickpeas
  • Cottage cheese
  • Kidney beans
  • Tuna
  • Peas


GREEN: Unlimited
These foods are low fat and low calorie, but also full of important nutrients, vitamins, and fiber.
Use the following foods without any limits:

  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Bean sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Cucumber
  • Green pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Lettuce
  • Mushrooms
  • Onions
  • Pickles
  • Radishes
  • Red pepper
  • Spinach
  • Tomatoes
  • Vinegar
  • Zucchini

Smoked Salmon Salad and Apple Lunch

A tale of two salads

Salad #1   Salad #2
Food/Amount Calories Food/Amount Calories
Lettuce, 1 C 55 Lettuce, 1 C 55
Tomato, 1 small 20 Tomato, 1 small 20
Cucumber, 3 large slices 2 Carrots, 6–8 strips 12
Cauliflower, ½ C 14 Avocado, ½ avocado 188
Carrots, 6–8 strips 12 Kidney beans, ¼ C 55
Broccoli, ½ C 20 Tuna, ¼ C 78
Beets, ¼ C 21 Hard-boiled egg, 1 egg 72
Red cabbage, ¼ C 6 Coleslaw, ½ C 45
Radishes, ¼ C 5 Pasta salad, ½ C 160
Green peppers, ¼ C 6 Diced ham, ¼ C 113
Green onions, ¼ C 11 Cheddar cheese, ¼ C 112
Mushrooms, ¼ C 5 Croutons, 2 Tbsp 132
Kidney beans, ¼ C 55 Bacon bits, 2 Tbsp 48
Tuna, ¼ C 78 Sunflower seeds, 2 Tbsp 102
Lite dressing, 2 Tbsp 30 Salad dressing, 2 Tbsp 140
Total 340 Total 1332

C=cup, Tbsp=tablespoon