Understanding Nutrition Facts Labels

Nutrition LabelCalories? Fat? Sodium? Carbohydrates? What do you look for on a nutrition facts label? Food labels tell you a lot about what’s in the foods you choose to eat. But they can be hard to decipher. Follow these simple steps to help you make the best food choices for what your body needs.

Step 1: What’s the serving size?
One of the most important pieces of information is also the most ignored! How many times have you eaten an entire package, thinking it’s one serving, just to turn it around and see that it’s actually two servings! That means you have to double all the numbers on the label. Instead of 150 calories, you ate 300. Instead of 7 grams of fat, you ate 14, and so on. Always check the serving size before portioning out your food.

Step 2: How many calories?
This section is helpful to look at if you are working on losing, gaining or maintaining weight. “Calories” listed on the left side are the number of calories for one serving. “Calories from Fat” tell you how many calories come from the fat in the food for one serving. Balance how many calories you eat with how many calories your body uses to maintain weight. Eat more calories than you burn to gain and less calories than you burn to lose.

Step 3: Nutrients to Limit
Choose foods with lower numbers of the following nutrients: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium. Eating too much of these nutrients may increase your risk for heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.

Step 4: Get More of these Nutrients
Most Americans don’t get enough fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron from the foods they eat. Eating more of these nutrients may improve your health and help reduce the risk for some diseases and health conditions.

Step 5: What are Percent (%) Daily Values?
The percentages listed on the right side of the label tell you whether the food gives you a lot or a little of that nutrient. Five percent (5%) or less gives you a “low” amount of that nutrient. Twenty percent (20%) or more gives you a “high” amount of those nutrients.

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  • Denise Richardson

    Why did you neglect to point out the Carbs? If someone is going to read the label…shouldn’t they be reading the total label and understanding how Carbs play into the scheme of things?

  • Abbie

    Thanks for the great article! I would love to see more frequent posts on this blog, especially hints and tips for Emory post-bariatric patients.