Anatomy of a nutrition facts panel

This article was originally published in April 2014

Understanding the nutrition facts on a product can help you make more informed choices when it comes to your food.
The FDA recently announced it’ll be updating the nutrition label, a change that will take place over the next couple years. In the meantime, it’s still helpful to know what exactly you should be looking for. PCC nutrition educator Nick Rose decodes the small print.

Total Fat

Fat provides more calories than any other nutrient, so foods low in fat often are low in calories and vice-versa. Foods high in total fat are not always unhealthy; they will just be higher in total calories.

Trans Fat

Always should be avoided because it increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes and obesity. PCC does not carry any products made with trans fats.

Saturated Fat

The traditional recommendation is to keep saturated fat below 10 percent of total calories to prevent high blood cholesterol levels. Newer research suggests not all saturated fat impacts cholesterol levels the same way.

Total Carbohydrate

The type of carbohydrate is more important than the total amount of carbohydrates consumed, but all carbohydrates provide calories (except dietary fiber).

Dietary Fiber

Less than 50 percent of Americans consume the recommended 25g/day of this important nutrient, which is found only in plant foods.


Food labels do not distinguish between natural sugars (carrots, milk) and added sugars (honey, syrups, sucrose). Try to keep added sugars below 5 percent of total calories.


It’s not as bad as you probably think. Surprisingly, our blood cholesterol levels are more influenced by the amount of cholesterol that we make in our livers, not by the amount of cholesterol in our food.


The percent daily value for this nutrient is based on 2,400 mg/day, but most health professionals recommend consuming 1,500 mg/day. Too much sodium will raise your blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease.


It is a good idea to consume some protein at every meal to help you feel full and reduce food cravings. Most of us only need to consume 50g to 65g of protein per day.

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