What You Need to Know About Reading Food Labels

Posted on March 10, 2011


Understanding how to read a food label is a very beneficial skill to have. Food labels provide you with valuable information on what is going into your body. However, all the numbers and percentages on labels make it easy to misunderstand what you are reading. The picture below depicts a sample food label ; one you learn how to read it, you will be able to make more informed choices when buying food.

1. The serving size
This should be the first place you look when reading a label. Here you should pay attention to the serving size and how many servings are in the package. The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label.


2. Calories and Calories from fat
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Remember that calories correspond with servings. To know how many calories you are consuming you must multiply the number of servings you eat by the amount of calories on the food label.


3. Nutrients to Limit
The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or even too much. They are identified in yellow as Limit these Nutrients. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.


4. Nutrients to Get more of
The nutrients identified in blue are the ones you want to eat more of. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. For example, getting enough calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis. Eating a diet high in dietary fiber promotes healthy bowel function. Additionally, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, and low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.


5. Footnote
When the full footnote appears on a food label, it will always be the same. It doesn’t change from product to product, because it shows recommended dietary advice for all Americans–it is not about a specific food product.


6. Percent Daily Value (%DV)
The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient compared to the recommendations for a 2,000 calorie per day diet. 5%DV or less is low for a nutrient and 20%DV or more is high. The %DV also corresponds to serving size; so if you eat two servings you must double the %DV.


If you still have more questions, take a look at the National Library of Medicine’s page for more information on food labels.