What Does Percent Daily Value Mean On Food Labels?

Dear Davey,

I’m so confused by the percentages listed on nutrition labels. How can something have 140% of a nutrient? That doesn’t even make sense. Please explain what these numbers mean.

From,
Jordan

man_reading_labels_t540People are often confused by the percentages listed on food labels. So here’s the deal.

These percentages are called daily values and they are a guide to the nutrients in one serving of a given food. For example, a cup of milk might have 30% of your daily value of calcium. That means, in theory, you’ll need to get another 70% of your daily value of calcium through other foods to meet your body’s daily biochemical needs.

When a serving contains 140% of a nutrient, it means that you’ve exceeded the recommended daily intake by 40%. If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends 1,000 mg of that nutrient, a 140% listing means that the serving contains 1,400 mg of that nutrient.

Makes sense, right?

It’s very important to note that these standards are based on a 2,000 calorie diet and are set by the FDA and don’t differentiate on the basis of age, sex, medical condition, etc. Because nutrition isn’t a one size fits all approach, your actual daily needs may vary from these recommendations; they are simply meant as a very general guide.

You’ll also notice that there’s not a daily value for trans fat or sugar. That’s because experts recommend avoiding trans fats and minimizing added sugars for optimal health.

Exceeding your body’s daily needs for fat, cholesterol and sodium may put your health at risk. As such, using the daily values on nutrition labels can help you identify smarter food choices.

As I mentioned before, your daily nutritional needs may be quite different from the daily values listed on food labels. My mother, for example, has high blood pressure; her doctor recommends strict limits on the amount of sodium she eats. An endurance athlete may consume 3,000 or 4,000 calories a day; his or her daily nutritional needs will be very different.

If you have any questions about how much of a nutrient you need, just ask your healthcare provider for more detailed guidance. And for more information, check out 5 things to look for on nutrition labels.

Love,
Davey

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Comments

  1. Good article. I just want to point out that if you’re consuming 3000 vs 2000 calories, it does not mean you need to consume 1.5x a nutrient. Also don’t worry too much if you go over your RDA (recommended dietary allowance). There is a set UL (upper limit) for each nutrient, that is usually many times higher than the RDA – it’s unlikely to reach the UL through food alone (unless you take a multivitamin).

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