Are you confused by all the numbers on a food label?  I know this sounds elementary, but reading a food label can not only be confusing, but very misleading as well.  In this blog post, I’ll dissect each piece of the food label puzzle, teach you nutritional facts and help you make easier, healthier and safer food choices.


Serving Size:  Servings are a huge consideration as there are usually more than one servings in the foods we buy.  So when you’re calculating calories, sugar, etc…you’ll have to multiply by the number of servings in each container!  Scary!

Calorie Count:  When reading a food label, it’s not so much about calories but where those calories are coming from.  Calorie labels on food products are nothing more than a marketing ploy and can be very deceptive.  For example, if a pack of cookies are advertised as having only 100 calories, does it not matter if it’s full of sugar?  So don’t find yourself caught up in the game of calorie counting.  Low calorie doesn’t necessarily equate to to being healthy.

Also, don’t be distracted by a label that reads “low sodium” or “low fat” has only been reduced by 25% from the original product, so it may not be a “low” ingredient at all.  Get it?

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In understanding where you calorie count comes from, you need to know how many calories are in each of your macronutrients.
  • Protein-4 calories per gram
  • Carbohydrates-4 calories per gram
  • Fats-9 calories per gram
When I read a food label, usually the first two things I look at is the amount of sugar and the ingredient list.
  • Sugar-there is 1 teaspoon of sugar per every four grams of sugar listed on the label.  In other words, take the grams of sugar on your food label and divide by four and that’s how many teaspoons of sugar are in a serving.  
In regards to the ingredient list, ingredients are listed in order of their amount in the product.  So with that in mind, be aware of your first 5 ingredients.
  • For example, if an item advertises “whole grain”, then the first ingredient should read “whole grain….”.  
  • Also sugar should not be listed in the first 5 on that list.  We are trying to avoid added processed sugar.  

Another thought to consider when reading the list of ingredients is if you can’t pronounce them, then it’s most likely not real food!

[Tweet “If you can’t pronouce the ingredients on a food label, then it’s probably not real food.  #eatrealfood”]

Now back to the label:
Total Fat:  Your body needs approx 20% of your daily intake to come from healthy fats like omega III that are found in nuts, avocado and salmon.  Do stay below 20-25 grams of saturated fats/day (this is the fatty, cholesterol building fats like vegetable oil, fat from the skin of a chicken and heavy creams and dairys, etc.
Trans Fat: (or Hydrogenated Oil)= Zero!  Avoid this type of fat!  Read your ingredient list!
Cholesterol:  <300 mg/day
Sodium:  <2000 mg/day
Total Carbohydrate:  At least 45-65% of your diet should come from healthier complex carbs instead of sugary starchy carbs–carbs are good!  They are our energy source so they are very necessary to a healthy diet.   Healthier carbs are your veggies, beans, legumes, sweet potatoes and whole grains.
Sugar:  Goal is <2-5 grams/meal
More about sugar:  avoid any sugar-free products or products listed as “diet”.  These contain Aspartame which is very damaging to the body and can cause detrimental health issues. I prefer Stevia as it’s a natural plant based sugar instead of Splenda or any other sugar substitute.
Fiber:  25-35 grams/day
Protein:  Approximately 1/2 your body weight in grams/day for a sedentary lifestyle.  One who is much more active can tolerate up to their full body weight in grams of protein per day.
Nutrient Percentages:  RDA– The Recommended Daily Allowance of nutrients listed on a food label are merely the percentage of nutrients you need to prevent actual nutritional deficiency.  They are not, however the totals needed for optimal health.  I always recommend supplementing daily with good vitamins.  My favorite are Isotonix vitamins.
Wanna learn more?  Check out my health coaching page on how you can learn more info like this and much more! 
I hope you’re having a great week and I’d love a shout out/share or comment below if this was helpful!

2 Comments on How to Read a Food Label

    • Thank you Jody! 😉

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