How to Read Nutrition Facts on Food Labels in 12 Steps
Step 1 – Start with the “Serving Size”. At the top of the label, you will see the serving size and the number of servings per container. Serving sizes differ on each food label and may not equal the serving size you normally eat. If you eat twice the serving listed on the label, you will need to double all the numbers in the nutritional facts section.
Step 2 – Tally up the “Calories” and “Calories from Fat”. This section on the label tells you the total number of calories in each serving of the food and the number of those calories which are derived from fat. Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from eating one serving of the food. If you are trying to control your weight, the number of calories you consume counts. For example, one serving of macaroni and cheese may provide 250 calories, with 110 calories from fat. If you ate 2 servings, you would consume 500 calories and 220 of those calories would be from fat.
Step 3 – Add up the “Total Fat”. Total fat includes fats that are good for you, such as monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats (usually from liquid and plant sources, such as canola oil and nuts) and fats that are not so good, such as saturated and trans fats (from animal or vegetable sources). Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help lower your blood cholesterol and protect your heart. Trans fats are also known as “hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” fats. These are formed during the process of converting liquid oils into solid fats, such as shortening and stick margarine. Hydrogenation increases the shelf life and stabilizes the flavor of these fats. Partially hydrogenated fats are currently considered the worst fats for our health.
Step 4 – Look at the “Sodium” content. Sodium is also known as table salt and it is a hidden ingredient in many foods, especially processed food, such as canned soups and tomato sauces.
Step 5 – Find out how much “Cholesterol” is in your item. This tells you how much cholesterol you get from eating one serving of the food. There are two types of cholesterol – HDL, known as the “good” cholesterol and LDL, the “bad” cholesterol.
Step 6 – Identify the “Total Carbohydrates”. This number represents the total of all the different types of carbohydrates you consume from eating one serving of the food.
Step 7 – Work out the “Fiber” content. This number tells you how many grams of dietary fiber is in one serving of the food. Dietary Fiber is the indigestible portion of plant food.
Step 8 – Be vigilant about the amount of “Sugar”. This is the amount of sugar you consume if you consume one serving of the food. Some carbohydrates become sugar when digested in your body, so you may be consuming more sugar than what is on the label.
Step 9 – View the “Protein” amount. This number tells you how much protein you obtain from consuming one serving of the food.
Step 10 – Look at the “Vitamins and Minerals”. The food may contain several vitamins, such as Vitamin A, B, C or E as well as minerals such as iron and calcium.
Step 11 – See the “Percent Daily Value”. The asterisk (*) after this heading refers to the information at the bottom of the label, which states “% daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet”.
Step 12 – Finally, don’t forget to look at the “Information at the Bottom of the Label”. This chart is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. This information must be on all food labels, although the chart that follows is not required on small packages if the label is too small. However, the information is dietary advice from public health experts for all Americans and is the same for all products. This is applicable also in many other countries, following dietary advice provided by individual an country’s food advisory experts. It shows the upper and lower limits for each nutrient based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Let’s use the macaroni and cheese example. One serving would provide 18% of the Daily Value of the possible 100% Daily Value for your total fat intake. That leaves 82% that you could consume from other sources for that day. If you ate two servings, you would consume 36% of your Daily Value for fat, leaving 64% to be consumed from other sources.