Reading A Food Label

Sample Food Label~ “Avoid food products containing ingredients that are A) Unfamiliar, B) Unpronounceable, C) More than five in number or that include D) High-Fructose Corn Syrup. None of these characteristics, not even the last one, is necessarily harmful in and of itself, but all of them are reliable markers for foods that have been highly processed to the point where they may no longer be what they purport to be.  They have crossed over from foods to food products.” – Michael Pollan


Sections have been colored on the Nutrition Facts label to help you better understand how the label is structured. You will not see these colors on the actual food labels you purchase.


1. Serving Size
The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods; they are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, such as the number of grams. 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. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, “How many servings am I consuming”?
2. Calories & Calories from Fat
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Many Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight. Remember: the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat.
3. Nutrients to Limit
The nutrients in this section are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or even too much. 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.  Important: Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
4. Nutrients to Expand
Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. 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, a condition that results in brittle bones as one ages. 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. Percent Daily Value (%DV)
The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients for a 2,000 calorie daily diet–not 2,500 calories. You, like most people, may not know how many calories you consume in a day. But you can still use the %DV as a frame of reference whether or not you consume more or less than 2,000 calories.The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. The %DV column doesn’t add up vertically to 100%. Instead each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient.. This way you can tell high from low and know which nutrients contribute a lot, or a little, to your daily recommended allowance.

6. Nutritional Footnotes
The * used after the heading “%Daily Value” on the Nutrition Facts label refers to the Footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label. This footnote is based upon the “%DVs on a 2,000 calorie diet”. This statement must be on all food labels. The comparison between the 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diet information may not be on all packages if the label is too small. When the full footnote does appear, 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.
7. Ingredients
Food labels must also include the ingredients that are in the food. The ingredients are listed according to how much of the ingredient is in the food. So for example, if the first item on the ingredient list is “water”, then there is more water used in the item then any other ingredient.  I like to stick to the general rule of a product only containing 5-6 ingredients, all of which I can pronounce and recognize.
8. Allergen Warning
Beginning in 2006, food makers were required to clearly state on labels any of the FDA’s standardized allergens that were contained in their products. These standardized allergens include: milk, eggs, peanuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish, and tree nuts. In some cases, it’s easy to identify what’s safe to eat by checking the listed ingredients on a label. However, some ingredients that may trigger an allergic reaction may be listed under an unfamiliar name such as, “arachis oil” which is another term for peanut oil. Ask your doctor to supply you with a complete list of ingredients to avoid for your specific allergy.

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