AICR HealthTalk: Daily Values on Food Labels

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AICR Health Talk is a feature of the American Institute for Cancer Research, a cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. Questions are fielded by registered dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.

Question: How am I supposed to use those “% Daily
Value” figures on food labels?

Collins: Checking “% Daily Value” information can help you in two ways: as a guide for identifying foods relatively high or low in certain nutrients, and as a tool for comparing different food choices.

The Daily Value is a research-based estimate of how much of that nutrient an average adult should eat as part of a healthy 2000-calorie diet. The % Daily Value tells you how much of the target amount for that nutrient is in a serving of that food, based on the serving size listed on the label. For a nutrient that's best to limit, such as saturated fat or sodium, containing less than 5 percent of Daily Value means a food can be an especially good choice, while containing 20 percent or more of the Daily Value signals need for caution. But if it’s a nutrient you’re trying to boost in your eating habits, such as dietary fiber or vitamin C, a food that contains 20 percent or more of Daily Value can be a good choice to help you reach healthy levels.

The % Daily Value (%DV) figures won't give you – or any individual – precise help because people’s needs vary depending on age, gender and overall calorie requirements. But you can use the %DV to compare brands to help you choose a lower sodium soup or a higher fiber breakfast cereal, for example. When you compare %DV, check the serving sizes on the packages to make sure you’re comparing the same amounts.

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