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Author(s): Nancy Moreno, PhD, and Barbara Tharp, MS.

Using Food Labels

Beginning in 1994, the US Government began requiring manufacturers to put information about nutritional value on food labels. This information helps people make better choices about which foods to buy and eat.

All food labels must present the same basic information in a standard format. This information includes, at minimum, the amount per serving of saturated fat, cholesterol, dietary fiber, and other nutrients known to be important for health. Labels also provide nutrient reference values, expressed as “% Daily Values,” to help consumers see how a food fits into an overall daily diet. It is important to pay attention to the serving sizes on any food label.

Packages also must list all ingredients in foods. This list is given in order, by weight, beginning with the ingredient that weighs the most. This information can be helpful when selecting foods.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of fuel. Starchy foods like breads, spaghetti, rice, potatoes, corn and cereals are made up mostly of carbohydrates. Sweet foods like candy, jam and syrups also are carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates, called fiber or roughage, are hard to digest. They help move waste through the digestive system.

Fats include butter, margarine, lard, shortening and cooking oils. Meats, cheese, cream, chocolate and many desserts like cakes and cookies usually have a lot of fat. Fats are very concentrated sources of energy. Some kinds of fat (particularly fats that are solid at room temperature) have been linked to diseases of the heart and circulatory system. Most Americans eat too many high-fat foods.

Proteins are important for growth and repair of the body. Protein-rich foods include eggs, milk products, meat, dried beans, chicken, turkey and fish. The body also uses protein as fuel to provide energy for movement and growth.

Minerals are found in small amounts in foods. They are needed for many of the body’s functions. For example, calcium is used to build bones and teeth and also is important for muscles and the nervous system. Iron goes into making red blood cells.

Vitamins are other chemicals found naturally in food that are needed in very small amounts by the body. Fruits and vegetables are valuable sources of vitamins and minerals.

All foods also contain some water.

Complete instructions for conducting activities in this slide set, including materials needed, setup instructions, student sheets (in English and in Spanish), answer keys and extensions, can be found in The Science of Food Teacher’s Guide, which is available free-of-charge at


1. Remind students of the food guides they used at the beginning of this unit. Ask, How can we be sure that the foods we eat each day contain the nutrients we need?

Funded by the following grant(s)

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH

My Health My World: National Dissemination
Grant Number: 5R25ES009259
The Environment as a Context for Opportunities in Schools
Grant Number: 5R25ES010698, R25ES06932

Houston Endowment Inc.

Foundations for the Future: Capitalizing on Technology to Promote Equity, Access and Quality in Elementary Science Education