How To Read a Food Label

So, you are concerned about eating healthy, and you have started to look at those food labels present on packaged food items. By law, all processed foods must contain a nutritional label explaining what components are in their product, and how much of these components are present. This act, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act, was established in 1990 to help consumers make healthier eating choices. Armed with the knowledge of how to read these labels, you too can make the best food decisions for yourself and your family.

Contents of Food Labels

All food labels must contain certain information including:

  • Common name of the product
  • Name and address of the product’s manufacturer
  • Net contents in terms of weight, measure or count
  • List of ingredients
  • Serving sizes
  • Nutrition Facts

Of special interest are the ingredients list, serving sizes, and nutritional facts, since these help you determine exactly what you are putting into your body if you consume a particular product.

List of Ingredients

When you look at a list of ingredients, it’s helpful to know that the more a product is composed of a certain ingredient, the higher it is on the ingredients list. For example, a product containing mostly water will have water listed first on the ingredients. A product containing lots of peas and a little bit of corn would have peas listed among the first few ingredients on the list, whereas corn would be listed farther on in the list.

By looking at the list of ingredients, you can determine what is in the product, as well as the ratios in which a product’s ingredients are present.

Serving Sizes

All products must also have a serving size. This is the amount of the product that all nutritional information is based on. A serving size can be in the form of a quantity, like 2 cookies, or a measurement, like 250 grams.

When you know the serving size, you can figure out how the nutritional information applies to how much of the product you want to eat. For example, if you want to know how many calories you will eat if you eat 4 cookies, you can multiply the information about a 2 cookie serving size by 2.

Nutrition Facts

Here is where you can find details about how the product relates to your eating goals. The label will list the calories per serving as well how those calories are made up – for example whether most of the calories will be coming from carbohydrates, sugars, fats, proteins, or fibers. There will be grams listed beside each of these constituents, so that you can tell where most of the calories are coming from.

If you are trying to keeps calories from fats or carbohydrates to a minimum, this information will interest you. The trans and saturated fats in the product will also be listed, and these should be kept to a minimum, as should sugar. However, try to pick products that list a high amount of fiber.

Any nutrients like vitamins or minerals that the product contains will also be listed under the primary nutrition facts.

The percents present on the label relate to the daily value (DV) that is recommended for an adult to consume of this component per day. This means that if the product is listed as containing Vitamin C — 50% for the serving size of 8 oz, a regular sized glass of this product will give you half of the Vitamin C you should be consuming that day, or half of your reference daily intake (RDI).

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