How to Read a Food Label

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how important it is to check food labels while you are grocery shopping. That got me thinking that maybe I should write a blog post on how to actually read a food label. So I enlisted a little help from an intern. Today Catherine is guest blogging for us. Catherine is a dietetic intern at OSU, she has already finished her master’s degree and just has a few weeks of shadowing left before she is completely done. I hope you enjoy her blog post on food labels!

Food Label

  1. Start with the serving size. This tells you how much (grams, cups, ounces, etc) food/beverage there is for the number of calories, fats, protein, and nutrients listed. Paying attention to the serving size and how many servings there are per container is important. Many food packages contain more than one serving, so consuming the entire bag/package may mean eating 3-5 times the calories and nutrients listed on the label.
  2. Check calories. Calories are an indicator of energy. People are different sizes and therefore need different amounts of energy to fuel their body. The average number of calories a person needs per day is approximately 2000. However this ranges for how tall a person is and how much they weigh. A shorter person will need less energy than a tall person, etc. Next to Calories, is ‘calories from fat,’ which is an indication of how many of the total calories, come from fat. In the example listed above, 110 calories come from fat, which is almost 50%. A serving containing less than 40 calories is considered low, around 100 calories is moderate, and greater than 400 calories is high. Eating more calories than your body needs can lead to weight gain and obesity. To find out how many calories you need in a day click on this link http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/calories.html.
  3. Limit these nutrients. Total fat, cholesterol, and sodium when consumed in high amounts can have negative effects on your health. These in excess are linked to heart disease, and high blood pressure. The recommendation for total fat intake is approximately 20-30% of a person’s diet, so if you need 2000 calories, total calories that come from fat would be about 400-600 calories or 44-66 grams of fat per day.
  4. Get enough of these nutrients. Fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, are important nutrients to maintain good health. Fiber promotes healthy bowel functions and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and whole grains that contain soluble fiber, may help to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  5. The footnote at the bottom of the label explains the Percent Daily Value of the nutrients recommended for all Americans. When this is listed on the food label, it will always be the same and does not change from product to product. These can be used as references (see #6) to see how much the certain food product contributes to meeting those recommendations.
  6. The Percent Daily Value (%DV) helps you determine if a serving is high or low in a nutrient. For example this label shows that one serving of Mac and Cheese contributes to 18% of total fat intake for a person who needs 200 calories. A good guide to %DV is that 5%DV is considered low for all nutrients and greater than 20%DV is considered high for all nutrients.

Remember that the nutrition label can help you limit the nutrients you want to cut back on but can also help you increase the nutrients you want to consume in greater amounts.

For more information please visit http://www.fda.gov/food/ingredientspackaginglabeling/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm.