Reading Food Labels – Learn To Read Nutritional Label Facts


Being able to read a food label is essential in making sure you choose the right foods for a healthy eating plan. Food Labels provide helpful information, based on nutritional facts, ingredients, where the food came from, whether it is natural or organic, and certain heath claims made about that particular food. The information found on food labels can be helpful in managing health conditions and alert those with food allergies.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA (Department of Agriculture) require that all food labels show the same nutrition and health information so you can compare foods and make choices based on your particular needs. They also regulate any claims made by companies such as “light”, “low-fat,” Organic. These claims must meet strict government regulations.

The first step in reading a label should be to look at the whole label not just one part of the label. This way you get the whole picture of what that particular food contains. Below are some helpful hints to use when you read a food label:

food-labelsServing Size – Start here because all the information from calories to vitamins is based on a serving size. Take into consideration how much the actual serving size is, what you may think is a serving size or what you are used to eating, may actually be more than one serving.

Servings per container – This tells how many servings are in the package. Some drinks actually have two servings in them, so take note of this.

Calories – A calorie is a measurement of how much energy a food provides your body. The number on the label tells you how many calories are in a serving of that food.

Calories from fat – Tells you how many calories in that serving come from fat. For most people no more that 30% should come from fat.

Percent Daily Value – These percentages tell the amount of nutrients an average person will get from eating a serving of that food. Based on a 2,000 or 2500-calorie diet, these values can be useful as guide or reference so you will know whether you are consuming the right percentage of nutrients.

Fat – This is divided and gives you values for total fat, unsaturated fat, saturated fat and trans fats. Total fat shows how much fat is in a single serving and is usually measured in grams. Saturated Fat is only part of the total of fat in that food. You should not eat more than 10-15 grams of saturated fat per day. Unsaturated fats found in nuts, vegetable oils and fish are often called “good fats.” Fats such as saturated and Trans fat that are solid at room temperature put you at risk for developing heart disease.

Cholesterol – The amount of cholesterol you consume daily should be less than 300 milligrams.

Sodium – Aim for 2400, less than 2300 if you have high blood pressure. Healthy choices have less than 280 mg.

Total Carbohydrates – This includes several types of carbohydrates such as fiber and sugar. Healthy choices would include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. People with diabetes should control their intake of carbohydrates. Watch out for the quantity of sugar found in foods, sometimes there is more than expected. What you think may be low in fat, could be loaded with sugar so the food taste better and vice versa. The items below are under total carbohydrates.

  • Dietary Fiber-Fiber is one kind of carbohydrate. The recommended daily requirements for fiber are 25 gm to 30 gm.
  • Soluble Fiber – This is one part of the total dietary fiber listed above. Soluble fiber helps people with diabetes control their blood glucose and helps lower the risk of heart disease.
  • Sugar – Sugar is also considered a carbohydrate. This includes natural sugars as well as any added sweeteners.
  • Other Carbohydrates – this number tells how much starch and other non-sugary content is in the food.

Protein – Most of the body need protein such as the cells, organs, blood vessels, skin and other body tissues live and grow. The daily requirements for protein are 14 gm for infants under 1 year, children under 4 years need 16gm, pregnant women need about 60gm, and nursing mothers about 65gm. Most other adults need about 50gm of protein per day.

Vitamin and Minerals – Choose foods that are high in a variety of vitamins and minerals. Eat foods so that the percentages add up to 100% each day of the recommended daily requirement of vitamins and minerals.

Daily Values Chart – This section tells you how much should be eaten based on a 2000 and 2500 calorie diet, with list for goals of intake of total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, etc. It shows you how the food might fit into a balanced food plan.

Ingredients – The label lists ingredients from greatest amount to least. If you are trying to watch a certain ingredient such as sugar or salt make sure that it is not listed as one of the first three ingredients. Avoid foods that have hydrogenated, partially hydrogenated or High Fructose Corn Syrup in the ingredients list.

Contains – Some companies includes this on their labels to alert consumers with food allergies avoid this item. Examples may include wheat, dairy, eggs, soy, and nuts.

Food labels may be daunting at first but with a little guidance and practice, you will be able to quickly scan a label and make food choices that fit into a healthy eating plan.

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About Author

Cathy Jackson

Cathy has been in the fitness industry since 1985. She has been a nurse (LPN) for several years. She holds certifications as a Master Personal Trainer, Group Fitness Instructor, Pilates Instructor, and Lifestyle Fitness Coach. See my profile page for more information!

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