Have you ever looked at the small print on the Nutrition Facts label? At the very bottom, you’ll see a notation that says that some of the information provided is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. On most labels the text reads:
“Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.”
On some newer Nutrition Facts labels, the text may read:
“The % Daily Value tells you how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.”
If you’re trying to use the label to eat a healthy diet, that notation might be confusing. Does this mean that you are supposed to eat 2,000 calories each day? Or is there a better way to use the information?
What Is a 2,000-Calorie Diet?
In order to provide the most helpful nutritional data to consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) uses a 2,000-calorie diet as an example on the part of the Nutrition Facts label that provides information about Daily Values and Percent Daily Value (%DV). It is not a recommendation to eat 2,000 calories. It is also not meant to imply to that a 2,000-calorie diet is necessarily better or worse than, say, a 1,200-calorie diet or a 2,500-calorie diet.
So why does the FDA use the 2,000 calorie figure on the label? Many average American eaters will have a daily caloric intake in that approximate range. By using that figure, the nutritional information provided is likely to be useful for a wide audience.
- A moderately active 30-year-old woman would consume about 2147 calories to maintain her weight.
- A lightly active 40-year-old man would consume about 2195 calories to maintain his weight
- A petite, very active 25-year-old woman would consume about 2143 calories to maintain her weight
- A tall, sedentary 70-year-old man would consume about 1828 calories to maintain his weight.
Your unique daily calorie needs are based on your body size, your weight goals, and your activity level. A person who is trying to lose or gain weight would adjust their daily caloric intake to reach their specific health goals. To find out how many calories you should consume each day, you can do some simple math or use an online calorie calculator.
Many weight loss plans are based on a 1,200-calorie per day diet for women and a 1,600-calorie per day diet for men.
What Is Percent Daily Value?
Percent Daily Value (%DV or % Daily Value) tells you how much a food contributes to your total recommended intake of a given nutrient. Percent Daily Values are listed in a column on the right side of the Nutrition Facts Label.
You can use % Daily Value figures to see if you are getting the recommended intake of important nutrients like fat, protein, calcium, and fiber. You can also use the data to make sure you are not getting too much of certain nutrients that should be limited, like saturated fat or cholesterol.
For each nutrient, the label lists the number of grams or milligrams that a single serving of that food provides. This information is listed in a column on the left side of the label. For example, you might look on the label of your favorite snack and see that it provides two grams of saturated fat.
But on the right side of the label, you’ll see a percent. It describes how that food contributes to your recommended intake of that nutrient if you eat a 2,000-calorie per day diet.
If you eat 2,000 calories per day, the Daily Value for saturated fat is 20 grams per day or less. Since your favorite snack provides 2 grams of saturated fat, it would provide 10 percent of your total intake of saturated fat for the day. You would see “10%” listed in the “% Daily Value” column.
Different Ways to Use Percent Daily Value
What if you don’t eat 2,000 calories per day? Is the Percent Daily Value information useless? Not really. The FDA provides suggestions about helpful ways to use Percent Daily Values and other nutritional information no matter how many calories you consume. You can use the information to:
- Make food comparisons. If you are trying to choose between a few different brands or products, you can compare the labels to see how each product will contribute to your daily nutritional needs. Just be sure to compare foods with similar serving sizes. Check the serving size at the top of the Nutrition Facts label. Then check the % Daily Value column to see which food contributes more of the nutrients you need and less of the nutrients you don’t.
- Verify claims on food packages. You might see a nutritional claim on the front of a food package that sounds appealing. It’s smart to verify those claims by checking the Nutrition Facts label. For example, you might see a food that advertises that it is “lower in calories.” But it may not actually be low in calories.
- In general, 40 calories is considered to be low, 100 calories is considered moderate and 400 calories or more is considered high if you consume a 2,000-calorie diet. If the food you’re looking at provides 200 calories per serving, it might be lower in calories than its competitor, but it is not a low-calorie food.
- You can also verify claims about nutrients. Foods that provide 5 percent DV of a particular nutrient are considered to be low and those that provide 20 percent DV or more are considered to be high. For example, if your favorite cereal advertises that it is a good source of fiber, you can check the Percent Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts label to see if it is a high fiber food or a low fiber food. If the % Daily Value listed for fiber is 25 percent, then the cereal is a high fiber food.
- Make food-trade-offs to improve your diet. As you become more comfortable using the Percent Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts label, you can scan it quickly to trade low nutrient foods for higher nutrient foods. If you are trying to cut back on your salt intake, for example, you can check the % DV of comparable foods and choose the one with the lowest percent listed in the row for sodium. Or if you are trying to increase your protein intake, you can look for foods that have a higher percent listed for protein.