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How to Read Nutritional Labels on Food Packages

Label Able: The Basics

Reading nutritional labels can be tough, so it's nice to review the basics every once in a while. I found this little rundown of label basics from WebMD really helpful and simple, so I wanted to share.

Here are highlights:

  • Serving Size. Serving sizes are based on the amount of food people typically eat, which makes them realistic and easy to compare to similar foods. This may or may not be the serving amount you normally eat. It is important that you pay attention to the serving size, including the number of servings in the package and compare it to how much you actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. For example, if a package has 4 servings and you eat the entire package, you quadruple the calories, fat, etc. that you have eaten.

There's a lot more great info, so


  • Calories and Calories From Fat. The number of calories and grams of nutrients are provided for the stated serving size. This is the part of the food label where you will find the amount of fat per serving.
  • Nutrients. This section lists the daily amount of each nutrient in the food package. These daily values are the reference numbers that are set by the government and are based on current nutrition recommendations. Some labels list daily values for both 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets.
    • "% Daily Value." Shows how a food fits into a 2,000 calorie/day diet. For diets other than 2,000 calories, divide by 2,000 to determine the % Daily Value for nutrients. For example, if you are following a 1,500 calorie diet, your % Daily Value goal will be based on 75% for each nutrient, not 100%.
    • Fat, saturated fat and cholesterol. Choose foods with a low % Daily Value. For total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, try to reach your goal for each nutrient.
  • Ingredients. Each product should list the ingredients on the label. They are listed from largest to smallest amount (by weight). This means a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient.

Label claims can be misleading as well, so be sure you've got those figured out too!


Join The Conversation
i-am-awesomeness i-am-awesomeness 9 years
thanks for writing about those labels!
almostloli almostloli 9 years
i'm also really big in reading labels too i can spend quite a long time reading labels haha. i love em, but not obsessed! :P oh yeah those instant noodles are really high in sodium
Lanfear Lanfear 9 years
Who decides how much a typical person eats/drinks? This has baffled me since the first time in the US. In Europe we have all calories info based on 100g or 100 ml which I believe is much more objective and easier to compare between brands and types of food.
JessBear JessBear 9 years
lol, clarient. I obsessively read labels. It takes me, like, 2 hours to buy $50 worth of groceries, because I want to make sure I get the best combo of taste, nutrition, and price.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I remember when I was a kid and learning about reading the ingredients on food labels. My dad always encouraged us to pick out food and read the labels so we'd get healthy options. Like breakfast cereal...the rule was that sugar couldn't be one of the first 4 ingredients. That pretty much left Cheerios, corn flakes, bran flakes, Kix, Rice Krispies, and oatmeal. I used to eat a whole pack of Ramen all the time when I was in college. I was so floored when I found out that one pack was 2 servings and there were 8 WW points PER serving. Ouch! Oh, and the ice cream thing is really depressing. I used to eat big bowls of ice cream and not measuring made me gain weight, lol. I started buying individual ice cream bars so there's automatic portion control.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 9 years
I'm really big on reading nutritional labels. I've worked with a trainer, and he got me into the habit. It's truly eye-opening, and shocking. The sodium number often surprises me. Processed and canned foods, even light or plain foods, have an extraordinary amount of sodium. That's why for plain foods, like canned beans, I like to rinse them thoroughly before I use them in my recipes.
uptown_girl uptown_girl 9 years
I make sure and point that stuff out to my bf. He eats such CRAP! My biggest thing is his energy drinks!!! I've tried to point out the crazy amounts of calories, not the mention the serving size of those things is usually 2.5 or 3, so he has to multiply the calories! Luckily I've gotten him to downgrade, and he drinks them less often, and he now likes Enviga, which is a MUCH smaller portion, and 5 calories. I'm almost to the point of being OCD when it comes to labels! I will NOT buy bread if it has high fructose corn syrup in it! I usually have to read the ingrediants on 4 or 5 different types of bread before I find one. Plus, I am looking to make sure the first ingredient is "Whole Wheat Flour", and not anything else.
Stupidasscat Stupidasscat 9 years
I always am astonished at serving size on some items like Top Ramen is 2 servings who splits a pack of T.R. with someone because its just to much to eat. Also when things say now low fat or fewer calories they usually just lower the serving size.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
Ice cream serving sizes are usually about a half cup, which if you've ever measured really isn't a whole lot. Kinda depressing.
kiddylnd kiddylnd 9 years
My son just about flipped when we were at the grocery store and I was teaching him about reading labels. He realized that his favorite Top Ramen is actually two servings per package. That's a whole lotta sodium! Thanks Fit for giving the % Daily Value info. I never really understood how to account for less calories consumed per day and the daily intake. :)
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
Hahaha one cookie! yea right! not me! I am a cookie's my weakness!!!
aimeeb aimeeb 9 years
I remember in a bind I went to the vending machine here at work. I bought some little chocolate chip cookies, there were maybe 5-6 inside. (these things were SMALL) So I of course eat them and come to find out there were 4 servings in this tiny bag. What the!!??? I mean if this is true who the hell eats one cookie and that's it??!! They were the size of a half dollar!
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