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.
2,000-Calorie Diet Breakdown
A diet that provides 2,000 calories each day might seem like it would include a lot of food. But the actual diet breakdown is more reasonable than you might imagine. A sample meal plan might look like this:
Breakfast (approximately 500 calories)
- 2 eggs fried or scrambled
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
- 1 half grapefruit or small glass of juice
Snack (100 calories)
- One medium apple
Lunch (approximately 650 calories)
- Turkey sandwich on rye bread with mayonnaise
- Carrot and celery sticks with hummus
- One medium chocolate chip cookie
- One glass of 2% milk
Snack (100 calories)
- One small snack bar
Dinner (650 calories)
- Grilled salmon (4 ounces) with lemon
- Small baked potato with butter
- Steamed broccoli
- One-half cup of vanilla ice cream
What Are Daily Values?
Daily Values or DVs are nutrient intake recommendations that are based on the advice of national health experts. A list of Daily Values for key nutrients is provided at the bottom of some—but not all—food labels. Smaller labels are not required to provide the information. Values are listed for a 2,000-calorie diet and for a 2,500-calorie diet.
Based on the DV information, a person who eats 2,000 calories per day should consume:
- less than 65 grams or 585 calories from fat
- less than 20 grams or 180 calories from saturated fat
- at least 300 grams or 1200 calories from carbohydrates
- approximately 50 grams or 200 calories from protein
- less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium
- less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol
- about 25 milligrams of dietary fiber
Note that some of these recommendations have been updated based on the most recent nutrition science and are reflected on the updated Nutrition Facts label. They are used to calculate the percent Daily Value. Recommendations for saturated fat (20 grams) and cholesterol (300 milligrams) have not changed, while the following values have either been updated or added for nutrients that are featured in newer versions of the Nutrition Facts label.
- no more than 78 grams or 702 calories from total fat
- no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium
- 275 grams or 1,100 calories from carbohydrates
- at least 28 grams of fiber
- no more than 50 grams of sugar
- 20 micrograms of vitamin D
- 1,300 milligrams of calcium
- 18 mg of iron
- 4,700 milligrams of potassium
Also, keep in mind that these values are recommendations and not a specific prescription for good health or proper eating. A registered dietitian or health professional can provide nutritional recommendations to meet your specific health needs. Also, pregnant women and children have different recommended values for macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
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.
Do You Eat a 2,000-Calorie Diet?
Many smart consumers and healthy eaters don’t know how many calories they consume each day. If you’re not a big eater, you might eat 1,500 calories per day or even less. So you may not know how—or if—you should use the Daily Values and Percent Daily Values listed on the Nutrition Facts Label.
If you are trying to lose weight or improve your diet, you may find it helpful to keep a food diary for a week or more to get your number. Either fill out a paper journal, use a smartphone app or website to count your calories. After a week or so of counting calories, you should have a good estimate of your daily calorie intake. Once you have your number you can adjust it to meet your goals and use the Nutrition Facts label to evaluate how each food contributes to your daily plan.
Remember, the information provided on the Nutrition Facts label is based on general guidelines. Using it can help you to eat a well-rounded diet for good health. If you need personalized nutrition advice to manage a health condition, speak to your doctor or seek the advice of a registered dietitian.