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doi: 10.1097/01.HEARTI.0000429718.61182.a3

Label Lingo: Deciphering % Daily Value

Gordon, Sandra

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For a heart-healthy diet, the American Heart Association recommends limiting the fat you consume each day to less than 25 to 35 percent of your total daily calories. For example, if you need 2,000 calories per day (the average intake for a sedentary woman who is 31 to 50 years old), that means less than 600 of your daily calories should come from fat. Try to limit saturated fat to just 7 percent or less of your total daily calories (less than 140 calories) and trans fat to less than 1 percent of your total daily calories (less than 20 calories).

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A real easy way to find foods that are low in saturated fats is to look for the American Heart Association's Heart-Check Mark, which is available on over 900 food items. It tells you that the product has been certified to meet the AHA's guidelines for heart-healthy foods and has less than 6.5 grams of total fat, 1 gram or less of saturated fat, less than 0.5 grams of trans fat and 15 percent or less calories from saturated fat.

If the product you're looking to purchase doesn't have a Heart-Check Mark, the Nutrition Facts label is your best bet to figure out how much saturated and trans fats are in the food you're buying. The heart-healthiest foods like fresh, unpackaged fruits and vegetables don't have Nutrition Facts labels. But packaged foods do, including packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry.

To easily spot foods that contain too much saturated or trans fat, “pay attention to the % Daily Value,” says Kristie J. Lancaster, Ph.D., R.D., associate professor of nutrition at New York University in New York City. The % Daily Value is based on someone who eats exactly 2,000 calories a day. The convenient tool is found on the right side of the Nutrition Facts label. Use it to compare the nutritional value of two items quickly (assuming the serving size is the same). For meat, all Nutrition Facts label information is based on a standard 4-ounce serving.

A rule of thumb: “When the % Daily Value of a particular nutrient is around 20 percent or higher, the item is considered high in that nutrient,” says Lancaster. That's a good thing if, say, the nutrient is fiber we're talking about, but not so good if it's saturated fat or trans fat. If the % Daily Value is 5 percent or less, the food is low in that nutrient. “You want most of what you're eating to be 5 percent or less Daily Value for saturated fat,” Lancaster says. Since most of us are allowed only 20 calories from trans fats daily, look for foods that have 0 grams of trans fat.

© 2013 by the American Heart Association