How Do I Determine the Nutritional Value of Foods?

Use a food label to determine the nutritional value of your foods.
Epoxydude/Getty Images

Question: I can use your help. I've decided I want to eat a healthier diet and I think the best thing I can do is keep track of the foods I eat. Is that right? I also need to plan my meals and shop for the various foods and ingredients I need for healthy meals. How difficult is it to find the nutritional value for some of my favorite foods? I think that will help make meal planning easier.

Answer: You're right -- keeping track of the foods you eat does help you eat a healthier diet. I'm not sure if it's due to motivation or if it makes you feel accountable for what you eat. But in either case, it seems to work for many people.

There are a few ways to find the nutritional value of your favorite foods. Start at the grocery store. If you need the information for packaged foods, you can look at the Nutrition Facts labels. These labels are on the back, bottom, or side of the package, along with the ingredients list. Or you can go hunting for your favorite foods online. Most manufacturers' websites have the nutritional information available for their products.

Nutrient Facts labels must include information about calories, fats, carbohydrates, some vitamins and minerals per serving. They also have to identify how many servings are in the package, can or bottle.

If you're doing more cooking these days, you'll need to know the nutritional value of the individual ingredients used in your favorite healthy recipes. Again, the ingredients that are packaged have the nutrition information on the label. But, fresh fruits and vegetables, and some of the bakery goods, and items from the deli and meat department won't have labels. That means you'll have to do a little investigating.

You can do this work online. The United States Department of Agriculture maintains a nutritional value database called the National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. It has nutritional information for all kinds of foods -- and is much more in depth than a standard food label. Just search for your favorite foods and select the serving sizes you need.

Another way to go about this nutritional value research is by using diet and weight loss sites such as They have programs that will automatically calculate the nutritional value of your daily diet and also offer tools to track your daily intakes of various nutrients and calories.  You can search for your favorite foods on the websites or use mobile apps. 

Was this page helpful?