Spending a little extra time reading your food labels can make a huge difference in your family’s eating habits. Finding out more about what you eat can help you make the right decision when you are grocery shopping. Next time you are shopping, look at the nutrition label to see what you are really feeding your family. Below is a simple beginners guide to reading the nutrition label.
The FDA, Food and Drug Administration, suggests that by looking at the Nutrition Facts panel, which is found on the container your food comes in, you can:

  • Figure out which foods are good sources of nutrients.
  • Compare foods that are similar to figure out the healthier option.
  • Search for low-sodium, low fat, and low calorie foods.
  • Decipher foods that have saturated fat and trans fats.

Your Beginners Guide to Reading the Nutritional Facts

Start with the Serving Size. Serving sizes are fairly uniform to simplify the process of comparing similar foods. Serving sizes are provided in easy to understand units, such as grams, cups or pieces.
The top part of the label — where calories, fat, carbs and other nutrients are listed — is showing the counts for one serving. It’s important to remember that everything listed is for one serving size, and not the amount you choose to eat.
Before you eat your favorite snake sure to ask yourself “how many servings am I consuming?” By becoming aware of how much you are eating you can better interpret the amount of calories, fat grams, and nutrients you are ingesting.

Note Your Total Amount of Calories

Calories are the amount of energy you get from a serving of the foods you eat. Often Americans consume more calories than they need without getting enough nutrients. By reviewing the calorie section on the label and cutting back on the amount of calories that you consume, you can help manage your weight. By consuming low-calorie, nutrient-dense food like fruits and vegetables, you can eat a lot more and get all your nutrients without overdoing the calories.

Help Guide Yourself with the Percent Daily Values (%DV)

Use Percent Daily Values (%DV) to help you evaluate your recommended level of intake.
%DV’s are based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet per day. It is important to remember when looking at the %DV, that it is based on the entire day and not just a single meal.
You, like most people in America, may not know the amount of calories you ingest in a day. But you can still use the %DV as a general reference for what percentage of claories, fats, carbs, and sodium you are consuming.
Example: A serving of food that has a 7% DV of fat means that it contains 7% of the quantity of fat a person should eat in a 2,000 calorie diet.
Low and High Percent Daily Values

  • 5% or less is low. Have a low goal when it comes to saturated fat, total fat, sodium and cholesterol.
  • 20% or more is high. Have a high goal when it comes to consuming fiber, minerals, and vitamins.

Focus on Nutrients

By choosing to snack on fruits and vegetables, you can insure that your family receives more nutrients in their food opposed to munching on foods that are high in calories, sugar, and fats.
It is important to eat fiber, vitamins, calcium, and iron to maintain good health and to help decrease potential health risks.
Limit the Fat, Sugar, Cholesterol, and Sodium
Consuming less fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium can reduce your risk for different health issues such as high blood pressure, cancers, and heart disease. Remember to look at the %DV and make it a goal to consume foods with low percentages
Looking Into Carbs
There are three types of carbohydrates, and they are sugars, starches and fiber.
Things such as breads, cereals, rice, pastas, etc. contain carbohydrates. When purchasing these products look to buy whole-grains, so you can add good sources of carbs into your diet.
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. Sugar occurs naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose), or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup.
Check for naturally occurring sugar and artificial sugar, and know to avoid certain artificial sugars such as high fructose corn syrup.
The most important thing to remember is that the ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance in the food. That being said, the first two or three ingredients are the ones that count the most. Usually the last ingredients at the bottom of the list only appear a small amount in the food.
The ingredient lists can be especially important to consumers with food allergies. The top eight major allergens are now listed at the bottom on a food label if they are included in a product. For example, you may see at the bottom on an ingredient list “Contains: Wheat and Milk.”
The eight major allergenic foods: Milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.
Sources used for this post:
How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. N.p.: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Nov. 2004. PDF.
Jaret, Peter. “Reading the Ingredient Label: What to Look For.” WebMD. WebMD, 20 Oct. 2008. Web. 10 May 2013.