Nutrition Labels Defined

How many of us look at the nutrition label before we buy a food product in the grocery store?


If you answered YES to that question, sadly you’re in the minority

How about when you look around the grocery store, do you see others looking at the ingredient list or nutrition facts on the back of the food product?


I sometimes get weird looks when I take too long to read the extensive list


FDA Nutrition Facts Label


It is very common for us to buy products merely for the fact that the packaging is  visibly enticing. For me, I’ve noticed that I like packages that are simple. The ones that have limited print, look healthy, and from the outside look like they could contain health benefits such as lower fat, higher fiber, reduced sodium etc. However, we all know appearances can be misleading. Just because something looks and screams healthy on the outside, does not mean this is the case on the inside.

I invite you to look at the nutrition label on the back side of each product and really read what the facts are telling you. You might be surprised to find that the canned soup you thought was healthy, actually has more sodium than french fries. Or the supposed low-fat cookies have as much sugar and high-fructose corn syrup as a glazed donut.

Many people do not know what the nutrition label even says, it might as well be a different language to them. If this is you, don’t stress because you are not alone! You might also be wondering, why do food manufacturers make labels so complicated to understand, and why don’t they just say on the packaging “eat at your own risk”?  I think it’s obvious that wouldn’t sell in the market so they try their best to hide the ingredients. However, it is our job as the consumer to be informed about how to read a nutrition label because the food production company will not tell you their secrets.

This is why you’re here, to learn about the nutrition labels that can make a world of a difference when you’re grocery shopping and how to avoid the foods that are more harmful than helpful if you’re trying to loose weight, prevent disease, promote a healthier heart or just be darn healthier.



The Nutrition Label Break Down


Where to start..

  • Before you start looking at anything else on the label, look at the serving size. Most of the time we underestimate these serving sizes. We think no matter how much we eat, we gain the benefits of what is on the food label. Watch out, if you’re eating twice as much as the serving size, odds are you’re eating twice as much sodium, cholesterol, sugar, fat etc. Everything on the nutrition label pertains to ONE serving size, NOT the entire package.

Serving Size


  • Look at the amount of calories and calories from fat. If the calories from fat is more than half the total calories, the food item is not doing you any good. Try to find an alternative choice with less calories from fat.


We Want To Limit..

  • Look at the next 4 categories that are listed Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol. We want these 4 categories to be as low as possible. When looking at the %DV in these categories, try to stay around 5-10%. This means it is 5-10% of your daily value for these nutrients. Trans fat should be as close to zero as possible.


We Want To Increase..

  • Look at the next few categories such as Fiber, Protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron. We want to increase these nutrients for maximum benefits. We want these 6 categories to be as high as possible. Look for %DV as close to 20%.


Look At The Sodium Content..

  • The Sodium category is one of the biggest concerns facing certain diseases such as hypertension and cardiovascular disease. To avoid high sodium intake, try to maintain the %DV to 5%. To put this into perspective, an adult should not consume more than 2.3 grams or 2,300 milligrams per day. 5% DV would be about 115 mg per serving.


Check Out The Footnote At The Bottom..

  • The footnote at the bottom of the nutrition label explains other vitamins that the product or food may contain. This is where it also explains what the %DV is based from. We can see in this specific footnote, it explains how much total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbohydrates are recommended for both a 2,000 calorie diet and a 2,500 calorie diet.




%DV shows how one nutrition label fits into an average adult’s daily healthy diet of 2,000 calories.

15% DV of Iron means the particular food product contributes 15% daily value of needed iron per serving.




The Nutrition Label Terms


  • “Free”

We see this term often, “fat-free,” “cholesterol-free,” “sodium-free,” etc. This term means there is either zero amount of the nutrient present or the amount is so small, it will  have no significant effect on the body.

  • “Reduced”

This term indicates the food product has at least 25% less fat, or cholesterol, or sugar, or calories etc than the original food product had.

  • “High”

This term refers to a certain product having 20% or more of the Daily Value of a certain nutrient. Example: some orange juice brands claim, “High Calcium” meaning it contains 20% or more DV of calcium.

  • “Good Source”

This term refers to less than 20% of Daily Value, specifically the food product has 10-19% Daily Value of a certain nutrient.

  • “More”

This term is typically found on enriched or fortified food products. This refers to the product having 10% or more DV than the original food product.

  • “Light”

This term is given to a food product when it contains 1/3 of the calories OR 1/2 the amount of fat. 

  • “Healthy”

This term is a bit lengthy but good to know on hand when browsing through the grocery store. A food product is deemed “healthy” when the serving size is low in fat, low in saturated fat, 60 mg or less cholesterol, 480 mg or less sodium and at least 1o% DV Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, iron, Protein, or Fiber.

  • “Lean”

Refers to meat, poultry, or seafood product. Must have less than 10 grams of total fat, less than 4.5 grams of saturated fat, less than 95 mg cholesterol per 3 ounce cooked serving.

  • “Extra Lean”

Refers to meat, poultry, or seafood product. Must have less than 5 grams total fat, less than 2 grams saturated fat, less than 95 mg cholesterol per 3 ounce cooked serving.




American Dietetic Association: Complete Food & Nutrition Guide. 4th edition, 2012

Featured image: “De-Coding Nutrition Labels” from





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