% Daily What?!?!?!

Seeing as I am a dietitian and I do call my blog Nutrition, Food, Travel and more, and most of the time I focus on the last three, I decided to do a nutrition post today. I know all of you have seeen %DV on a food label before. Most of you have probably noticed this is based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Therefore I am guessing a few of you reading this are still wondering what the heck that %DV is suppossed to do for you since chances are you are not consuming a 2,000 calories diet.

I can not tell you how many times I have had a patient, client, friend or relative tell me that the %DV on the food label is confusing. Have you ever had the same thought? For those of us with nutrition degrees, and even those of you well versed in label reading, this is not such a mystery, but for a good amount of people this puts a bump in the road to using those labels to one's benefit.

So, where to start...

The definition of percent is one part in a hundred. That's an important part to remember. I often have students and patients tell me they do not know what percent (of any nutrient) they need for the day. In the end, whatever amount (mg, g, microgram) is recommended for you, you will need 100%...or all of it for the day.

Now, what about %DV...

Food labels list percentages that are based on recommended daily intakes — meaning the amount of nutrients a person should get each day. These numbers tell you the Percent Daily Value (DV) that one serving of this food provides as a percentage of established standards. For example, a label may show that a serving of the food provides 30 percent of the daily recommended amount of fiber. This means you still need another 70 percent to meet the recommended goal. Percent DV is based on a 2,000-calorie diet for adults older than 18.

The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients but only for a 2,000 calorie daily diet--not 2,500 calories. You, like most people, may not know how many calories you consume in a day. But you can still use the %DV as a frame of reference whether or not you consume more or less than 2,000 calories.
The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. Note: a few nutrients, like trans fat, do not have a %DV--they will be discussed later.
Do you need to know how to calculate percentages to use the %DV? No, the label (the %DV) does the math for you. It helps you interpret the numbers (grams and milligrams) by putting them all on the same scale for the day (0-100%DV). The %DV column doesn't add up vertically to 100%. Instead each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient (for a 2,000 calorie diet). This way you can tell high from low and know which nutrients contribute a lot, or a little, to your daily recommended allowance (upper or lower).

The second explanation gives some better information into what I want to talk about today and that is using the %DV to your benefit even though you do not consume 2,000 calories a day and you may not even know what you are consuming. The food label will explain %DV at the bottom and show nutrient levels for what it would be at a 2,000 calorie and a 2,500 calorie diet. So take a look here and notice the amounts recommended for fat, carbohydrate, cholesterol and sodium.

Based on this we know someone consuming 2,000 calories per day should have less than 65 grams of fat (more if 2,500 because this is ~30% of total kcal intake and we know that the guideline is no more than 30% of the diet to come from fat...so this is a MAX amount for 2,000 calories). Notice that cholesterol and sodium (and potassium) are the same. That makes it very easy to use the %DV for sodium and cholesterol. The guidelines are the same for everyone regardless of calorie intake (ok, ok maybe less if you have a medical condition that requires less, but in general this is it). As for potassium and carbohydrate they may not be as helpful as the other 3 I have previously listed. If you are watching carb intake chances are you are carb counting and using the grams listed on the label not the %DV (which BTW is based on 60% of your total caloric intake coming from carbs...a tiny bit on the high side for many individuals).

So let's looks at some labels and see how this can help you even if you don't consume 2,000 calories per day. Here is a label from a cereal box. The serving size is 1 cup. Let's look at the %DV...

For fat the %DV is 1%. This means the fat in this cereal is 1% out of a total 65 grams max per day for someone eating 2,000 calories per day. So you don't consume 2,000 calories per day, no sweat, either do I, I consume less on most days, so I know that 1% is still low, even if I was consuming 1,200 calories for the day. Now, if this said that the product contained 30% of the %DV of fat for the day, even if you don't consume 2,000 calories per day, you will be able to conclude that 30% must be high (since it only leaves 70% for all other foods of the day), especially if you consume less than 2,000 calories per day. Anything less than 2,000 calories per day and you should remember that if the fat seems high for 2,000 calories it will be a higher percent for you eating less calories. If you consume more than 2,000 calories daily, depending on how much you consume within a healthy range for managing weight, well then 30% may not be too bad and you may consider some extra math just to double check (take your desired/estimated kcal level for the day and multiply by .3 to get the calories max from 30% of fat, then divide by 9 because there are 9 calories per gram of fat and you are trying to determine max fat grams for the day.

Next we have cholesterol and sodium to look at. In this case 100% is 100% is 100% and for most people this %DV is extremely useful. This is based on 300 g cholesterol max per day and 2400 mg sodium max per day. In the case of the cereal there is 0 mg cholesterol which is 0%DV and 280 mg sodium which is 12%DV. Certainly low in cholesterol, but what about sodium. At first glance you may think this is high in sodium, but if you eat one cup (and if with milk you can see from the label this is now 14% not 12%) this is only 12% and for your remaining meals and snacks you have 88% more sodium to go. Most people consume lower sodium at breakfast than at other meals, unless adding salt to foods. Therefore, if you look at the big picture, this is really not that high in sodium. In fact I just ate a cup of this cereal and had some milk, so I have 86% sodium to go if aiming for 2,400 mg daily...so that means I can have max of ~1030 mg at lunch and another ~1030 mg at dinner, which is actually a lot of sodium!

So let's look over this other label I have here for V8 Butternut Squash soup.

You can see here that this is 3%DV for fat, so this is actually low in fat. Cholesterol is low too. But what about sodium? In this case there is 750 mg sodium, which sounds like a lot because..well it is a lot! The %DV is 31%, which by itself is a lot of sodium for just 1 cup of soup (actually not as high as some other soups). If you do not generally watch your sodium intake in general for the whole day you may not wish to consume a food that has more than 30% of sodium in just one serving. But for the sake of my example and using the %DV as a tool for quick and easy meal planning looking at sodium, dat and cholesterol intake, let's consider the big picture. At breakfast I had 14% of what I was aiming for with sodium, and now in one cup I get another 31%. That means if this is all I eat (yes, I will totally still be hungry, but for the sake of this post let me finish!), then I will have 55% or 1320 mg of sodium left to go at dinner time (or included in snacks too). So, if planning carefully, and it really doesn't have to be that involved, some foods that are seemingly bad for you, may be OK when consumed in the appropriate portion size and when taken into consideration with the rest of the foods for the day.

I really use the %DV only to gauge fat, cholesterol and sodium content of foods because all it takes is a quick glance at the percent. If something contains 56% of my fat for the day, or sdoium for the day, I am going to stay away from that product. But if I am eating very low sodium for the rest of the day, a bowl of soup may still fit into my diet for the day.

I hope this helps to clarify some of the confusion over %DV. I find that nutrition students just starting out are just as confused over this as my heart patients at the hospital. When I teach this to patients I tend to simplify a tad more than I did in this post, but most of you know a lot about nutrition and I thought you could handle my long blabbering about this topic.

Ok, so to finish up I wanted to share some pictures. Since Vegas doesn't really have a fall, I don't really have any fall pictures to share to get you in the mood for the season. so instead, here are some winter pics from, believe it or not, Las Vegas. Ok, so here were are up Mt. Charleston, which is still sort of Vegas, but also on it's own since you have to drive there up the mountain. But when in need of snow in Vegas (during the winter) this is the place to go.

QUESTION: Do you look at the %DV when looking at labels and meal planning?


Chocolate Covered Katie is giving away your choice of a kitchen gadget valued up to $35
if you love desserts, stop by Nutricious is Delicious for a chance to win a box of Penny's low fat desserts.


ChocolateCoveredVegan said...

Thanks Melinda! I entered you :)

Ginger said...

WOW wonderful blog post! It actually does more than clear it up. . . . I read it twice so thank you very much for all the easy to understand info. Have a great week.

Holly said...

Nope, don't use %D. I focus on grams of the nutrient.
If I discuss it at all I show it only as a means to compare one product with another (do they want more or less of that specific nutrient from that type of food).

Astra Libris said...

Melinda, thank you for this great post! I eat less than 2000 cal a day too, so your info is very, very helpful! Especially since I read nutrition labels as though they were novels... :-)

Gina; The Candid RD said...

Great pictures!! I can't believe that's Vegas during the winter. Crazy.

Thanks for the DV lesson :) It DOES get confusing, even for me sometimes! They need to start working on a better way to create food labels, so people can better understand them. The current system is just too confusing and unnecessary, not to mention that is caters to one group (healthy people who consume 2000 calories per day.) That group is SMALL!

Nutritious is Delicious said...

Thanks for the post and the link! :D

Anonymous said...

This is a great post! Thank you. I'm going to print this out and add it to my binder!

Emily said...

%DV is confusing. I rarely look at it. I usually just look at the grams of whatever. Thanks for the in detail explanation!

Love the winter pics of Las Vegas and the mountains!

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