How to Read Nutrition Facts | Food Labels Made Easy
How to Read a Food Label to Lose Weight
The Nutrition Facts labels can be very useful in helping you make healthy choices and lose weight. Here's what to look for and what to avoid.
By Dennis Thompson Jr.
Medically Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD
Don't Miss This
Sign Up for OurDiet and NutritionNewsletter
Thanks for signing up!You might also like these other newsletters:
The Nutrition Facts food labels, which are required on every packaged food product in the United States, contain a wealth of valuable information for people interested in trying to lose weight or eat healthfully. But if you don't know how to read the label or don’t fully understand your personal dietary goals, that information won't do you much good.
"There is so much wonderful information on the label, and there are so many people who don't take advantage of that," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RD, a weight-loss expert and columnist for Everyday Health. Here’s how to read food labels so that you can make choices that will will fuel your weight-loss efforts.
Deciphering the Nutrition Facts Food Labels
Start by understanding what each fact on the Nutrition Facts food labels means:
- Serving size: This information, found at the top of the label, is particularly important when you're trying to lose weight because all of the nutrition information (calories, fats, cholesterol, etc.) relates to that serving size, whether it be a measurement, like one cup of soup, or number of items, like 10 crackers. The number of servings tells you how many are in each container.
- Calories and calories from fat.You need to pay attention to this number if you want to lose weight. You need to burn more calories than you eat every day. You also want to keep the number of calories from fat that you eat each day under 35 percent of your total calories.
- Fatsare calorie-dense, so you should try to choose foods that are lower in fat, especially if you are trying to lose weight. The label also lists the amount of saturated fat and trans fats in each serving. You want to choose foods that are low in saturated and extremely low in trans fats, as they can raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. On the other hand, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats can help lower your cholesterol.
- Cholesterol.You should limit your cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day if you're healthy, and less than 200 milligrams per day if you have heart disease.
- Sodium.Sodium (salt) can cause high blood pressure, so it is helpful to keep your daily sodium intake below 2,400 milligrams per day.
- Carbohydrates.The food label lists total carbohydrates, but also shows the amount of carbohydrate that comes from either dietary fiber or sugar. Subtract the amount of fiber and sugar from the total carbohydrates to get an idea of how many complex carbohydrates are in each serving. Dietary fiber is good for you, aiding in your digestion and lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes while increasing your feeling of fullness. Sugars, on the other hand, burn quickly and can raise your blood glucose levels, so you should keep an eye on how much is in what you're eating.
- Protein.Proteins burn slowly and are essential for building tissue and muscle. Look at the number of protein grams in each serving and the percentage of daily protein it provides.
- Vitamins and minerals.This part of the food label can help you determine if the food is high or low in certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium and iron. Each nutrient listed on the Nutrition Facts food label comes with a Daily Value (DV) percentage that shows you how much of the recommended daily allowance is contained in a single serving of that food. In general, foods that are a good source for a particular vitamin contain 10 percent to 19 percent DV of that nutrient in each serving.
4 Foolproof Ways to Use Nutrition Labels for Weight Loss
Now that you know what information is on the label, it’s time to apply to it your personal diet plan:
- Take the serving size into account."All the numbers on that label reflect one serving," Taub-Dix says. "If you're eating more than the manufacturer is recommending as a serving size, you need to multiply those numbers by the amount you're eating." For example, you might be interested in eating a muffin because the food label says each serving contains just 150 calories. But if the serving size is half a muffin and you eat a whole one, you’re actually consuming 300 calories.
- Apply the food label information to your personal health or diet goals.If you're trying to lose weight, you'll want to look at calories. If you're concerned about your heart health, you'll want to see how much saturated fat the product contains. People with diabetes will review the package for carbohydrate and sugar amounts.
- Pay attention to the “Daily Value” percentages.You need to eat a certain amount of unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins each day to stay healthy. You also need to limit your daily intake of unhealthy ingredients like saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. Each nutrient listed on the Nutrition Facts food label comes with a percentage that shows you how much of the recommended daily allowance is contained in a single serving of that food. "This is very important because it gives you an idea of how valuable your food is," Taub-Dix says. "If you see all zeros there, the food you're eating may taste good, but may not have much value to you."
- Read the ingredient list, too."Sometimes the food could say something on the label that makes it look like a healthy food, but when you read the ingredient list it's not that at all," Taub-Dix says. "Ingredients are listed in order of amount. The greatest quantities come first, and the lowest quantities come at the end." A product that lists sugar or corn syrup as its first ingredient is guaranteed to be high in calories and low in nutrition, for example.
Video: How To Read a Food Label + My Tips!
Understanding Nasopharyngeal Cancer Symptoms and its Diagnosis
Marc Jacobs Spring Campaign Features Transgender Director Lana Wachowski
How to Dress After 60
Trio of Roasted Onions
Dwayne Johnson’s Injuries Surgeries
I’ve always thought that I wouldn’t make old bones’: Dawn French on the impact of her father’s death
Exercise Modifications for Rheumatoid Arthritis
Lupus Diagnosis: When to See a Doctor and What to Expect
How to Gain Flexibility
How to Make Coffee and Nutmeg Muffins
If Pollution Wasnt Bad Enough, Now It Officially Causes Cancer
Lucasfilm Release Star Wars Props That You Can Actually Buy
Kale and Quinoa Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette
Tranexamic Acid Reviews
21 Jelly Nails You Have To Try