Health & Fit: What daily value actually means and why it's important for healthy eating

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a person standing in front of a store: Daily value helps you compare food labels to make healthier choices. Tom Werner/Getty Images © Tom Werner/Getty Images Daily value helps you compare food labels to make healthier choices. Tom Werner/Getty Images
  • Daily value is how much of a nutrient you should consume each day based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
  • You will need to calculate your own daily value if you do not eat 2,000 calories a day.
  • Daily value determines which foods are higher in healthy nutrients and lower in less healthy ones.
  • Visit Insider's Health Reference library for more advice.

Good nutrition is essential for both the mind and body, but most Americans don't follow a healthy diet. That's where the daily value system comes in.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) created the daily value system to make it easier for people to meet their daily nutritional needs.

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Found on the nutrition label, the daily value system tells you can help you determine if a product is high or low in particular nutrients.

What does daily value mean?

Daily value (DV) refers to how much of a nutrient you should consume each day based on a 2,000 calorie diet. You can find daily values for a range of nutrients on the FDA's website.

The FDA chose 2,000 calories based on the energy needs of an average adult. However, this value varies based on a variety of factors like age, weight, height, and physical activity level.

"[The FDA] try to keep it simple, and don't consider the individual weight of a person or if someone is an athlete, or pregnant … it's just meant to be a baseline," says Eleana Kaidanian, a registered dietitian with her own practice.

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Another separate measurement, called percent daily value, is found in a separate column on the Nutrition Facts label to the right of each nutrient. These values - listed as percents - refer to how much of a particular nutrient you get in one serving.

For example, if the percent daily value on a package of nuts says 6% protein, that means one serving of the nuts will provide you with 6% of your FDA recommended protein intake based on a 2,000 calorie diet. If you doubled the amount you ate and consumed two servings, then you'd also double your daily value to 12% of your protein requirement.

How is daily value calculated?

There's one clear caveat to the daily value system: Not everyone follows a 2,000 calorie diet.

Fortunately, you can easily calculate your specific daily values with some simple math says Amy Lee, MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Lindora Clinic weight loss center.

How to calculate daily value

Let's say you follow a 1,500 calorie diet and want to convert the 2,000 calorie daily values to the equivalent for your diet. Then you should:

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  1. Multiply the recommended daily value of the nutrient based on a 2,000 calorie diet by your daily calories.
  2. Divide that number by 2000 calories.

For example: If you want to determine the daily value for protein based on a 1,500 calorie diet, you would multiply 50 grams (the daily value for protein-based off of a 2,000 calorie diet) by 1500, and then divide that number by 2000. This would get you 37.5 grams.

How to calculate percent daily value

You can also use the amount of a particular nutrient listed on food products to determine the percent daily value for different calorie diets.

  1. Divide the amount of a nutrient in a food by the value determined in the above formula.
  2. Multiply that number by 100 to convert to a percentage.

For example: Let's say you follow a 1,500 calorie diet and have determined that your daily value for protein is 37.5 grams. If you eat a serving of peanut butter with 8 grams of protein per serving and want to determine the percent daily value for your 1500 calorie diet, you can divide 8 grams by 37.5 and multiply that value by 100. This means eight grams of protein is 21.3% of your daily value.

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How to use daily value to make healthier choices

The daily value system can help you balance your diet with the proper amount of nutrients like protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, and minerals.

General advice: As a rule of thumb, if something has a 5% DV or less of a nutrient, it is considered to be low, while 20% DV or more is high.

The FDA recommends you choose foods higher in:

  • Fiber: at least 28g per day
  • Vitamin D: At least 20mcg per day
  • Calcium: At least 1300mg per day
  • Iron: At least 18mg per day
  • Potassium: At least 4700mg per day

And choose foods lower in:

  • Saturated fat: No more than 20g per day
  • Sodium: No more than 2,300mg per day
  • Added sugars: No more than 50g per day

For example, let's say you're choosing a breakfast cereal and have narrowed it down to two choices. The first cereal has a percent daily value of 57% fiber and 0% saturated fat, while the second cereal has 1% fiber and 2% saturated fat. The first cereal option will help you meet your recommended daily value intake for fiber and has less saturated fat than the second cereal, according to the DV system.

Insider's takeaway

Found on the nutrition label, daily value and percent daily value tells us how much of a nutrient to consume or not to exceed each day. It also informs us how much of a nutrient is in one serving of food.

By using the daily value system and picking products high in nutrients like fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals and low in substances like saturated fat, sodium, and sugar, you can easily fill your plate with foods that keep you feeling your best. Just know it's based off a 2,000 calorie diet so you might have to adjust according to your own calorie needs.

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