Reading Food Labels
How to Read Food Labels
Have you ever read through a food nutrition label while standing in the aisle of a grocery store? We know that reading this information should help us make healthy food choices. However, some food labels can be confusing and some of us may not know how to properly interpret the information contained in them.
If you’d like to be better prepared to make informed food choices, read on for explanations of the primary components of food labels.
The Serving Size is the place where you need to start when reading a food label. This section of the label tells you what constitutes a serving of the product and the number of servings contained within the package. The Serving Size is usually listed in easily understood measurements, such as cups, pieces, or packets, and is then followed by the metric amount, which is expressed in grams, 43g, for example.
Bear in mind, however, that if you eat more, or less, than the suggested serving size, you will need to adjust all of the nutritional values listed on the label to match the serving you consumed. This is especially important for people that are carefully monitoring their intake of calories, sodium, or fat.
Calories and Calories from Fat
The Calories section of the food label contains the total number of Calories in one serving. Calories from Fat indicates the number of calories that come from fat in one serving of the food. Here’s an easy way to compare these two numbers: the closer the Calories from Fat number is to total Calories number, the higher a food is in fat.
The Daily Value number appears on the far right hand side of the food label. This number tells you how much of the Daily Value of each nutrient is contained in each serving, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. These numbers are helpful to people who are monitoring their daily intake of specific nutrients. They also allow you to compare the nutrient content serving of one product with the nutrient content of other products.
The Total Fat number indicates how much fat is contained in one serving of a food product. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that no more than 35% of your total daily caloric intake should be derived from fat. Depending on which fats are found in a food product, one or more types of fat may be listed below the Total Fat number.
The different types of fat found on food labels are:
Unsaturated fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Both remain liquid at room temperature. They are found in oils such as canola, olive and peanut. Polyunsaturated fats can be found in vegetable oils.
Saturated Fats, Trans Fats, and Cholesterol
Saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol may raise “bad” (LDL) cholesterol levels in the blood, which in turn increases the risk for heart disease. They are found in many animal products, such as meat and dairy items, as well as tropical oils. Trans fats can also be found in foods containing partially-hydrogenated vegetable oils.
Sodium can be found in small amounts in almost all foods. The highest concentrations of sodium are found in packaged foods and processed meats such as bacon and ham, canned soups and vegetables, and in many frozen foods.
Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables have carbohydrates. Whole grains, such as oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and whole grain brown rice, are all examples of good choices for carbohydrates.
Dietary Fiber, which is listed under Total Carbohydrate, is a vital part of a balanced and healthy diet. Fiber can be found in foods such as oatmeal, beans, broccoli, apples, oranges, and whole wheat or bran cereals. Diets that are high in fiber can help support a healthy digestive system.
Sugars are also listed under Total Carbohydrate, and are found in many foods. Starchy foods, such as pasta and potatoes, can be rich in complex carbohydrates and can be eaten as a part of a healthy diet. Simple sugars are added to most sweet tasting foods but are naturally present in fruit, and fruit juices.
Protein is important for proper growth and development because it supports your body’s cells and helps build and repair your muscles and other tissues. Common foods that can contain good amounts of protein foods include milk, eggs, meat, fish, poultry, cheese, yogurt, nuts, and soybeans.
Vitamins and Minerals
The last section of the food label contains the vitamin and mineral information for one serving of the food product. The percentages of the Daily Value are listed in the column.
Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label, June 2000 and updated July 2003 and November 2004.