Reading Food Labels

Food labels can be an important resource in making sure you’re eating a healthy diet. Even if you know a lot about nutrition and health, and have a clear idea of your ideal nutritional profile, without nutritional information it would be difficult to determine how any given food fits into that plan. When it comes to diet, knowledge is true power.

Nutrition Facts…

  • The Nutrition Facts label is a boxed panel required by the Food and Drug Administration on most packaged food and beverage products. The box shows the amounts of macronutrients and certain micronutrients a food contains, as well as other information.
  • The first piece of information the panel provides is usually the serving size and the number of servings per container. Sometimes these can be deceptive, and what appears as a single-serving package holds multiple servings.
  • The rest of the information in the panel is based on one serving of the product. Calories, grams of protein, grams of fat, sodium, etc. are all listed this way and will need to be multiplied by the number of servings you eat.
  • The numbers shown with percentage symbols indicate how much of the FDA-established Daily Values of certain nutrients food provides. These Daily Values assume a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Daily Values set the maximum recommended fat, cholesterol, and sodium to consume. For carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, 100% of your Daily Value is the suggested minimum.
  • Foods that don’t provide many nutrients, such as coffee, alcohol, and spices, aren’t required to have labels. Produce, meat, poultry, and seafood are usually not required to have labels, and neither is most food served in restaurants. Any of these may provide nutritional information voluntarily.


Ingredients List…

  • In addition to the boxed section, often appearing near it, is an ingredients list. This lists ingredients in descending order. The ingredient the product contains the most by weight will appear first, and so on.
  • The ingredients list contains the most important information on the package. Using this list, you can find out exactly what is in the product and determine whether it’s right for you.
  • Generally, if the list is long, there are probably a lot of chemical additives in the product, and you’re risking your health by eating it.
  • Even if the ingredients list is short, however, it may still contain ingredients you don’t want to eat. Always read each item’s ingredients list, researching any ingredients that aren’t immediately recognizable, if you need to.
  • The best products usually have ingredients listed that you can easily recognize as real food.


Other Information…

  • Keep in mind that the front of the package is designed to get your attention and convince you to buy the product.
  • Logos or phrases are often placed prominently on the package to advertise an aspect of a food’s nutritional value. Examples include “organic”, “all-natural”, “free-range “, “made with whole grains”, or “helps support a healthy heart”.
  • Some of these phrases can be misleading health gimmicks with no legal definition and are effectively meaningless.
  • Some of the logos and phrases you’ll see indications that a food has been third-party certified. Examples include “USDA Organic”, “Certified Humane”, “Orthodox Union Kosher”, or “Certified Fair Trade”. Certifications may not always necessarily mean that a food or ingredient is especially nutritious, but they may ensure that food has been produced in a way that aligns with your values or preferences.
  • The FDA allows some health claims to appear on food labels, where the claim is backed up with enough research and the product meets specified guidelines. For instance, “May reduce the risk of hypertension” can be used on a product with less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. These claims usually contain the word “may” or “might”, whereas mere marketing jargon is usually more decisive.



  1. How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label
  2. What’s New with the Nutrition Facts Label
  3. Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors
  4. How to Read Food and Beverage Labels
  5. 9 Most Misleading Food Labels
  6. What Do Labels Really Mean?
  7. Understanding the Food Label



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