If you are looking to lose weight or just be healthier, then how to read a nutrition label the right way is going to be key.
What you put in your body has a huge impact on your health, weight, mood, and so much more. That is why it is so vital to put the right things in your body.
And to do that, it starts with reading the nutrition facts.
I’m sure you have picked up an item at the store, turned it over, and glanced at the nutrition label.
But did you really know what you should be looking at?
Or what all of it meant?
If not, that is ok. Most people don’t and that is why you are reading this.
Even those who think they know how to read the label could still learn a few things here.
I am going to teach you how to read a nutrition label the right way, which is going to do a few things for you.
It is going to help you to see what the best options are when picking out food and it is going to give you the confidence to actually pick those healthier foods.
What is a Nutrition Label
If you look at pretty much any packaged food item, you will see something called Nutrition Facts. An example is pictured below.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) require these nutrition fact labels on most packaged foods.
This label is meant to show you the nutrition content of that food, which includes amount of fat, sugar, sodium and fiber, among other things.
Why Should You Care About Reading A Nutrition Label
Knowing what is in the foods you eat, especially if you are looking to be healthier or lose weight, is going to be vital to your success.
Nutrition labels are going to be a great way to help you determine what you should eat.
And the more you learn about nutrition fact labels and how to read them, the faster you will become at examining them.
Many people feel it is tedious to look at all the labels on food. But, if you do it frequently, you are going to know exactly where to look for the facts that are most important to you.
For example, if you are on the Keto diet, you would always want to look at the amount of carbohydrates and sugars that are listed. You wouldn’t be too concerned with the calories.
The point is, when you break down what is most important to you in your foods, reading the nutrition label really isn’t hard.
What is Listed on a Nutrition Label
This is a very important part of being able to read a nutrition fact label. If you do not know what it contains, how can you possibly know what to look for?
Also, knowing a little bit more about each fact will help you determine what you feel is most important to keep track of.
To keep it simple, we are going to work our way from top to bottom, of a nutrition facts label.
You can look at the example I have, or feel free to grab a favorite snack to examine as we go.
All nutrition labels are set up in relatively the same way.
The serving size is going to tell you how much of the food equals one serving and how many servings are in the package.
The information that you read on the label is going to be for one serving. That means, if you eat two servings, you have to multiply everything else on the label by two, to get the actual totals for what you are consuming.
For example, on the nutrition label for my Sunbelt Bakery Granola Bars, is says the calories per serving are 140. If you ate two servings (two granola bars), you have to times the calories by two, to get the total amount of calories you had, which would be 280.
The calorie section tells you how many calories are in that serving of food. This is important because our bodies store and use calories for energy.
The best foods for you are those food that have a lot of nutrients without having high calorie content.
When you eat more calories than you burn, you gain weight. This is why so many people count calories.
When you hear the word fat what do you think? If you are like others, you might feel that is should be avoided.
People tend to associate fat with being unhealthy, but that is not necessarily true. It is important to not go overboard on fats, but they do contain vital fatty acids.
These fatty acids are made by the body and help with brain development, controlling inflammation, and blood clotting.
Fat is also a major storage form of energy in the body.
The types of fats you might see on your nutrition label are saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat.
This type of fat comes mainly from animal food products, such as cheese, butter, lard, and meat fat.
There are conflicting thoughts on saturated fats. Some say that you should stay away from saturated fat, while others state that it can raise your good cholesterol.
My thoughts are, everything in moderation. There is no way to stay away from saturated fats completely and you can always keep an eye on it if you want to make sure you are not going overboard with it.
Trans fats are a fat you want to limit. A diet high in trans fats can lead to heart disease and high bad cholesterol.
Trans fats can be naturally occurring or artificial. A lot of companies have been working of reducing these fats in their foods, however, many like vegetable shortening, some microwave popcorn, fried fast foods, and potato chips all contain higher amounts of trans fat.
Knowing how to read a nutrition label the right way is going to help you reduce the amount to trans fats you consume.
This is a healthy type of fat that can be found mostly in nuts, seeds, seed oils, and fish.
Even though this is a healthy fat, you should still make sure that you are not overdoing it. Too much of a good thing can be bad.
Monounsaturated fats are also a healthy type of fat that reduce your bad cholesterol levels.
They can be found in foods such as nuts, avocados, mayonnaise, and oil-based salad dressings.
Cholesterol is a type of fat in your blood and it can be affected by the foods you eat.
Foods like milk, cheese, meat, fish, and eggs, all have cholesterol in them. Too much bad cholesterol can cause cardiovascular disease.
It is said that is it more important to pay attention to the saturated and trans fats in your foods than it is the cholesterol.
Sodium regulates your blood pressure and can be found in foods like salt, meat, beets, carrots, celery, and spinach.
Getting too much sodium can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer and kidney disease.
It has been shown that 1 in 3 Americans will develop high blood pressure in their lifetime.
Total carbs are the sum of the dietary fiber, sugars, and starches in a food.
For those on a diet such as keto, this is an important section to look at. For those just trying to make healthy choices, remember that not all carbs are bad.
You want to stay away from the processed carbohydrates and choose wholegrain carbs. Wholegrain carbs contain more fiber, nutrients, and will help regulate your blood sugar.
To find out what kind of carbs are in a food, check the ingredients list on the package.
Dietary fiber is what gives your food some weight.
What I mean by that is, it is not like fats or proteins that get broken down by the body. It passes through your system relatively untouched.
Foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and nuts, help you feel fuller for a longer period of time.
And as an added bonus, it helps the digestive system stay on track, lower your cholesterol, controls blood sugar levels, and aids in achieving a healthy weight.
There are two types of sugars. Natural sugars and added sugars.
Natural sugars can be found in foods such as, fruits, vegetables, and milk products.
Added sugars are put into foods to add to the taste, such as soda and juices.
Whether you are trying to lose weight or become healthier, you want to watch your sugar intake. Unfortunately, sugar is added to many of our foods.
Even foods you wouldn’t think of, like bread.
Too much sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
You may have notices that a section has been added to the nutrition label and that is added sugars.
Added sugars are sugars and syrups that were added to your food when they were processed or prepared.
These do not include naturally occurring sugars.
This nutrient is found in foods such as milk, beans, eggs, and meat.
It is a necessary and vital nutrient that your body needs in order to maintain normal cell structure and function.
Vitamins, Calcium, Iron, & Potassium:
These are vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body.
I have grouped them together because, even though these are important for you, most people do not typically focus on them when reading a nutrition label.
These nutrients are found in many foods that we eat. It is important to keep in mind that some foods are richer in certain nutrients than others.
How to Read a Nutrition Label
Now that you understand that reading a nutrition label the right way can help you eat right and lose weight, and you know what is listed on the nutrition fact label, we can get into reading it.
In order to read a nutrition label, you must know what the Percent Daily Value (% DV) means.
The percent daily value is a guide on the nutrition found in a serving of food.
If you look at the bottom of the nutrition label, it states that % DV is based on 2,000 calories a day.
Don’t panic if you are someone that eats more or less calories than that. Reading the label can still be helpful.
You can see if a food is high or low in in nutrients.
High = 20% or more.
Low = 5% or less.
So, lets break down what a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should use at their percent daily values. This will give you an idea of the range you should be and can be modified if you eat more or less than the 2,000 calories.
Total Fat: 20% – 35% of total calories or 44g – 77g. This includes all types of fats, but I want to mention what you should know about your intake of saturated and trans fats.
Saturated Fat: Less than 10% or 20g.
Trans Fat: There is no recommendation for trans fat because the FDA feels that people should avoid trans fats as much as possible.
Cholesterol: About 300mg.
Sodium: Less than 2,400mg.
Total Carbohydrates: 45% – 65% of total calories or 225g – 325g.
Dietary Fiber: About 25g.
Total Sugars: 10% or 50g.
* Keep this in mind when drinking a soda, considering that just a 12oz can of soda contains almost your full daily serving of sugars and some surpass it.
Protein: According to the FDA you should consume about 50g per day.
Others say it should be based on your body weight. 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, or 0.36 grams per pound.
If you want to do it this way you simply multiply the grams listed above by your weight to get how much protein you should have in a day.
Keep in mind these are just guidelines. You can adjust them to your daily calorie intake.
What to Consider When Reading a Nutrition Label
1. Your Goal
Your goal is going to be vital when you are reading nutrition labels because that is going to tell you which areas of the facts you are going to focus more on.
If you are looking to lose weight, you would want to pay more attention to the sugars and carbohydrates.
If building muscle is the goal, protein is where it’s at.
And if you find yourself getting sick frequently and you want to boost your immune system, the vitamins are going to be what you focus on.
No matter what your health or fitness goal, there is a section in the nutrition label that you are going to want to keep an eye on.
So, figure out your goal and what facts are going to matter most when working towards it
2. Ingredients on a Nutrition Label
Remember to look at the ingredients listed with the nutrition label. The ingredients appear in a certain order.
The ingredient that is found the most in the product is listed fist and so on until you reach the least used ingredient, which is listed last.
For example, on the Smartfood Popcorn label, you can see that the most used ingredient is popcorn, which is listed first. The second most used is vegetable oil, which is listed after the popcorn.
This is important so you know how much of an ingredient is used in the product you are consuming.
When one of the first ingredients is sugar or fucose, you might think twice about picking that product.
3. No Nutrition Fact Label
People tend to get hung up when there is no nutrition fact label for a certain food. You won’t find one for most fruits and vegetables you buy.
So, what can you do?
It’s simple! Google it. You can find the nutrition facts for any food online.
All you need to do is type in “nutrition facts for ________”. And if it is something you buy or want to buy more often, save or print the facts off so you have it as a reference.
People also tend to make a mistake when they compare similar product nutrition labels.
Don’t get caught up in what the packaging says. Just because it says gluten-free, sugar-free, or fat-free doesn’t make it the best choice.
Pay close attention and read the nutrition label.
4. Serving Size
Be mindful of the serving size and how much you are actually eating.
Take for example a Jack’s frozen pepperoni pizza. The serving size 1/3 of the pizza and there are 3 servings for the pizza.
If you cut the pizza in thirds and only eat 1/3 of the pizza, you can use what is written on nutrition label.
However, if you finish the pizza off by yourself, you need to multiply everything on the nutrition fact label by three to get the actual amounts that you consumed.
Serving size does matter and will affect the percent daily values you are getting.
5. Falling for Zero Trans Fats
People tend to jump at things that say zero trans fats. We know we need to stay away from trans fats, so it is only natural that people would go after those foods labeled as such.
But the downfall is, if a product contains less than .5g of trans fat per serving, they may list the amount as zero.
This can be a problem if you are eating a food more often because you believe that is contains no trans-fat.
Instead of staying away from those fats, the amount you are consuming is actually growing without you realizing it.
A fix for this issue is to pay attention to the ingredients list. If it has the word “hydrogenated” in it, that is a trans fat and you will know it contains at least a small amount.
6. Added Sugars
They have made a change to nutrition labels. Companies now have to list the amount of added sugar they put in products.
This helps you because it lets you know how much sugar in a product is natural and how much is added.
You want to stay away from consuming too many added sugars.
Remember what I started above about a 12oz can of soda? If not, go read it again and you will understand why you should keep an eye on sugars.
From This Point Forward Read Nutrition Labels
We covered a lot of information in this post on how you can read a nutrition label the right way.
This included what everything listed on the nutrition label is and some general information on each on so you can determine if it is a fact you want to keep an eye on.
We also went over how to actually read a nutrition label as it relates to how much you sound be consuming daily.
Keep in mind that it is based on a 2,000-calorie diet and can be tweaked to fit what you consume.
Finally, we discussed what you should consider when you read a nutrition label.
This included knowing what your goal is, so you know what facts are most important to you.
Looking at the ingredients because they are listed in order, starting with what is used most to make the product. You want to stay away from products that list fructose (or other unpronounceable chemicals) as one of the first ingredients.
Don’t panic if there isn’t a nutrition fact label. You can always look up the nutrition facts online.
Make sure you take the serving size into account when you are eating. For example, if a serving size is 1 piece and you had 2, you must times everything on the nutrition label by 2.
Also, never be fooled by a package that says zero trans fat. If the content is below .5g, they can list it as zero.
Finally, keep in mind that added sugars. These are not naturally occurring sugars and should be avoided if the product contains a large amount.
And now that you know how to read a nutrition label the right way, go look at some of your favorite products and see if they still something you want to be eating.