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How to Read a Nutrition Label

I am so grateful for nutrition labels because they make it so easy to see how healthy a food item is. The only downfall is that I spend so much time reading labels, food shopping takes me twice as long! There are certain aspects of the nutrition label you may look at first, depending on your needs, but all the information is helpful and worth reading. Here are some tips to consider the next time you read a label.

  • Start with the serving size: You need to know the amount of the food the label is giving you information about. It's also helpful to know how many servings are contained in a package. This is where companies can trick you. You might think a bottle of juice contains 150 calories, but if you look at the label, the bottle may contain two servings, so you're really consuming 300 calories.
  • Check calories per serving in relation to the serving size: 100 calories in a one-cup serving is a lot different than 100 calories in a one-tablespoon serving.
  • Total fat: Limit this amount to 56 to 78 grams a day.
  • Saturated fat: No more than 16 grams per day.
  • Trans fat: Consume two or less grams per day. A product may say "0 grams of trans fat," but there still may be .5 grams or less grams. The only way to be sure is to read the ingredients. Steer clear of foods that say "hydrogenated oil."

We're just getting started, so


  • Cholesterol: Stick to less than 300 mg a day.
  • Sodium: Aim to eat less than 1,500 mg of added sodium per day.
  • Total carbs: Look at this number in relation to the list of ingredients. If the number is high but the ingredients include whole wheat and whole grains, it still gets the green light. On the other hand, if you see ingredients such as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and this number is high, I'd put that product back on the shelf.
  • Fiber: Women need 25 to 35 grams per day so the higher this number the better.
  • Sugars: Women are urged not to exceed 25 grams of processed sugar a day. Again, check out the ingredients and if you see things like sugar, brown sugar, or corn syrup, limit these foods.
  • Protein: Depending on your activity level, a woman needs between 40 and 60 grams of protein a day.
  • Vitamins: Some labels list the percentage of vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, iron, etc. Aim to get 100 percent of these nutrients.
  • Ingredients: This is one of the most important aspects of the label. Look for real food ingredients (you can pronounce), and avoid enriched flour, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and colors, and refined sugars.
Join The Conversation
Spectra Spectra 6 years
I tend to eat foods that don't have labels on them...fresh veggies, fruits, fish, eggs, etc. But the foods that I do buy with labels I'm very picky about. I avoid trans fats (I don't avoid saturated fats entirely, but if I'm going to eat them, I want them to be naturally occurring) and I try to make sure I avoid foods that have a lot of extra ingredients. Usually the more ingredients an item has, the more it has been processed.
leeluvfashion leeluvfashion 6 years
While all of the above information is important, I always read the ingredients first and foremost. I want to know right away what ingredients are in a product considering it is an item I may possibly buy and ingest. If the ingredient get an okay, then I start from the top of the label down to vitamin content. I also recommend checking just below the nutrition label and looking at where the product was manufactured and whether or not the ingredients may be gmo-free.
pixiedusk pixiedusk 6 years
really really helpful for me.. thanks!
mrsld mrsld 6 years
deanna- Obviously you did not major in chemistry. A fully hydrogenated oil cannot be a trans fat because it contains no double bonds. A fully hydrogenated oil is a saturated fat. Please get your facts straight before throwing stones. Guava- Those are great guidlines, thanks.
et-moi et-moi 6 years
I still don't know how to read a nutrition label for microwave popcorn though! Seriously, how many calories are in a bag of microwave popcorn? Stupid, confusing, and bad for you!
amber512 amber512 6 years
I agree about the ingredients list being the most important. Mostly because I have so many food intolerances! But also because it tells an interesting story of what the food is actually made of. 100 calories of real food is very different than 100 calories of chemical-filled crap.
deanna024 deanna024 6 years
Thank you for pointing out that it's "hydrogenated oils" period. I saw recently the Jif peanut butter and Skippy say on the front of their labels "no partially hydrogenated oils." But if you look at the ingredient list, it has "fully hydrogenated oils." It's still trans fat, and it makes me angry they are trying to trick consumers!
michlny michlny 6 years
I actually think the INGREDIENTS list is the MOST important thing. IMHO
guavajelly guavajelly 6 years
I was wondering, about carb/protein/fat ratio. There is a popular ND in Canada who advocates buying products that have equal carb to protein levels or better higher protein to carbs. She also says fat should be low, but if the product is high in protein the fat can be a bit higher. And lastly, she says fibre should be very high in bread labels... So much information out there, its easy to get confused, but great post!
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