How to Read a Nutrition Label

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Learning how to read and understand nutrition labels can help you make healthier choices. They help tell you what’s in the food you’re buying, but they can be a little tricky to understand. When you’re trying to be mindful of what you’re consuming, the confusion nutrition labels bring can make it that much more difficult. So today, I’m going to guide you through some tips on making the most of the information on the Nutrition Facts label so that you can feel confident in knowing you are buying the right products for yourself.

Pay attention to the serving size.

Let’s start with the serving information at the top of the label. This will tell you the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per container or package. One of the easiest ways to convince consumers into thinking a product is low-calorie, low-sugar, or low-fat is to make the serving size smaller than what anyone would typically consume. When you quickly glance at the nutrition label on your favorite snack, you might see only 5g of sugar, but you don’t notice that this is only for a small handful. If you know that you typically finish a whole bag in one sitting, a serving size of one handful isn’t realistic. Look at the serving size carefully, and then you can accurately calculate how many servings you’ll probably consume in one sitting.

Understand the percent daily values.

This number tells us the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. As a guide, when we want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a % Daily Value of 5 percent or less. If we want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), we can look for foods with a higher % Daily Value, such as 20 percent or more.

Read & understand the ingredient list.

The ingredients list is where you can find additional details regarding what’s in your food, but they can be deceiving. First, note that all ingredients in this section will be listed in order of quantity. If a product advertises that it includes something healthy like vegetables, check the ingredients to see if it’s near the top or bottom of the list. If it’s near the bottom, it’s probably an insignificant amount, but this allows companies to advertise healthy foods as if they are the main ingredients. If a product is advertised as “no sugar,” check the ingredients to see if there are any sugar alternatives. Although these ingredients aren’t simple white sugar, they are still high in sugar content— and you’ll want to be vigilant when knowing what you’re looking for in these ingredient lists. 

Take note of the health claims.

If a company advertises any health claims on their food packaging, take a second look. Many of these marketing words, such as “healthy” and “natural,” don’t mean anything concrete. These words are placed on packaging to help you feel confident that you’re buying something healthy, but knowing how to read your nutrition label is the only accurate way to know for sure.

It takes some practice, so every week during your grocery runs, take a few extra minutes to study some labels throughout the store and practice. Before long, you’ll be a nutrition label reading pro!

Priscilla Askew, NDTR

Hi I’m Priscilla! Nutritionist, USA triathlon & RRCA run coach, fitness enthusiast, foodie, and owner of Askew Nutrition & Fitness.

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