What does Percent Daily Value mean on food labels?

Answers from Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D.

The Percent Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts label is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food. For example, if the label lists 15 percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides 15 percent of the calcium you need each day.

The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults.

Even if your diet is higher or lower in calories, you can still use the Percent Daily Value as a guide. For example, the Percent Daily Value can help you determine whether a food is high or low in specific nutrients:

  • If a food has 5 percent or less of a nutrient, it's considered to be low in that nutrient.
  • If it has 20 percent or more, it's considered to be high in that nutrient.

Note that the Food and Drug Administration has not set Daily Values for sugar and trans fat. That's because experts recommend that Americans cut back on foods with added sugar and solid fats (including trans and saturated fats). These foods, such as cakes, cookies, pastries and donuts, are high in calories but low in nutrients.

To get the most benefit from Percent Daily Values, use them to choose foods high in vitamins, minerals and fiber — and to limit foods high in fat and sodium.

Mar. 20, 2015