How to Read Nutrition Labels

How to Read Nutrition Labels

When you’re trying to figure out what to eat, nutrition labels can be useful because they tell you everything about a food’s ingredients and nutritional value. Learning how to read food labels can help you make healthier, more informed eating decisions during your weight loss program and the rest of your life.

Nutrition labels make it easier to:

  • Determine healthy portion sizes
  • Reduce calories, fats and carbohydrates in our diets
  • Increase our intake of important nutrients

The Nutrition Label, from Top to Bottom

Beginning at the top, here is each section of the nutrition facts label and how to use it to your advantage:

Serving Size

Because the rest of the label will tell you how many calories and nutrients are in a single serving, it’s important to start by looking at serving size. Take note of both the size of a single serving and the number of servings per container—do not assume that a whole package of any food is a single serving.

Calories

Total calories can help you track caloric intake to stay within specific goals, or compare foods to find lower calorie options. Looking at calories from fat can help you quickly compare the overall fat content of foods.

Nutritional Value

From here on, the label will break down the food’s content of various different nutrients like fat, protein and vitamins. Next to each nutrient, you will find how many grams or milligrams of that nutrient are in a single serving, while some nutrients are also listed by percent daily value (% DV).

Percent daily value offers a recommendation on the amount of each nutrient that the average person should consume in a 2,000-calorie diet. For example, a 20 percent daily value of fat means that one serving of the food contains 20 percent of the fat that most people should eat in a day.

Though percent daily value may not directly apply to you, especially during a reduced-calorie medical weight loss diet, it can still provide an easy way to assess the food’s nutritional value.

  • A food is a good source (high) of a nutrient if it has 20 percent daily value or more.
  • A food is a poor source (low) of a nutrient if it has 5 percent daily value or less.

Using percent daily value can help you minimize your intake of nutrients you will need to avoid as you lose weight. In general, try to find foods that are low in:

  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Carbohydrates
  • Sugar

Percent daily value can also help you find foods that are higher in the nutrients you need to stay healthy. Try to find good sources of nutrients like:

  • Protein
  • Dietary fiber
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin C
  • Calcium
  • Iron

Paying more attention to this information can help you make informed decisions about the foods you eat, making it easier to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet.