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Understanding Food Labels

Knowing how to read a food label can help you make the healthiest choice.

Serving Size

The serving size lists the amount of food that the nutrition facts are based on. They are familiar amounts like 1 cup, 10 chips, or four cookies. Pay attention to how much you are eating and make adjustments to the nutrients based on those amounts.

Servings per container

The label tells you how many servings are contained in the package of food items. This can be helpful if you are calculating how many of the food items are in the package for a group or if you are consuming the entire package of a food item, you know how much of the nutrients you are consuming.

Calories and Calories from Fat

The number of calories tells you how much energy you will get from that food. Calories may come from carbohydrates, protein or fat. Foods that are 400 calories or more per serving are considered high in calories. 100 calories or more per serving is moderate, and 40 calories or less per serving is low. The calories from fat tells you how much of the total amount of calories are provided by fat. It is best to keep fat less than 30 percent of the total calories.

Total Fat

The total fat is the number of fat grams contained in one serving of food. Saturated fats and trans fats raise cholesterol and will be listed separately. Foods high in these fats should be avoided.

Cholesterol and Sodium

Many people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease need to limit their sodium and cholesterol intake.  Look for foods that contain less than 5 percent of the Daily Value.

Total Carbohydrate

Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source. Choose healthy high fiber carbohydrates like whole grains, vegetables, beans and fresh fruits. Look for foods that contain 2-3 grams of fiber per serving. Limit foods with added sugars. There is no daily percentage value for sugar, but you can compare sugar amounts of various foods to find the lowest number. Sugars are also contained on the ingredient list. Make sure sugars are not one of the first items on the list. Sugars may be listed as sucrose, glucose, fructose, corn syrup, maple syrup or honey.


Most people get plenty of protein, which is a major component of our muscles, organs and blood. Healthy protein sources include lean meats, beans, nuts and eggs.

Vitamins A, C, Calcium and Iron

Nutrient rich foods will contain 20 percent or more of these essential nutrients. Foods that contain 5 percent or less of the Daily Value are not good sources of these nutrients.

Percent Daily Value

Daily Values represent the recommended amount of nutrients based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Daily Values are reported in percentages. A food high in a nutrient provides 20 percent of the Daily Value, 10-19 percent is considered a good source and 5 percent or less is considered a low source of that nutrient. A table is provided on the food label with some upper limit guidelines for fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate and fiber.

Ingredient List

Ingredients are listed on the food label in order of descending weight from most to least. Avoid foods that have fats or sugars listed in the first few ingredients. Sugars may be listed as dextrose, sucrose, maltose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maple syrup or honey. Fats may be listed as oil, palm oil, coconut oil, hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil. Ingredient lists may also be used to avoid foods that may cause an allergic reaction.



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One Response to “ Understanding Food Labels ”

  • David @ My Normal Cholesterol Levels

    Good working putting a concise yet easy to understand explanation of this up. I’m staggered when I watch people shop for food without so much as a cursory glance at the label, though much of what goes into their shopping carts clearly violates the basic tenets of healthy eating.

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