Knowing how to read a nutrition facts label is one of the most important steps toward managing your weight. You need to know what you are putting into your body.

Right now, the grocery store industry is in a state of flux with all of the new labelling laws. It can be confusing and difficult because there are so many different labels on food products these days.

If you want to make sure that your diet has enough nutrients then it is important to read this label before buying anything!


What are nutrition facts labels?

The nutrition facts label on packaged food tells you how much fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein are in each serving size as well as the number of calories.

These can vary depending on whether or not cooking instructions have been included.

Nutrition Facts labels are standardised, meaning they include the same set of information no matter where you get a given product.

They're the small boxes packed with details about what's inside each food. The Nutrition Facts label is on virtually everything you eat except fresh produce.

You've probably noticed labels on food products that look like little tables of numbers. These are called nutrition facts labels, and they're designed to help you understand what is in the product you are looking at before you buy it.

It's important to read the label because how many calories or grams of fat a certain package contains can make a big difference in your diet.


How to read a nutrition facts label

how to read a nutrition facts label

1) Look at the serving size.

2) Take a look at the calories and fat grams listed for that serving size. If you know you're going to eat the whole thing, just multiply those numbers by four. (If not, don't be misled into thinking that the calories and fat are lower for a smaller portion size).

3) Check out the amounts of saturated, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. These numbers should be as low as possible.

4) Look at the carbohydrate content (the second half of the nutrition label provides this info), which includes sugar, starch, and dietary fiber.

5) Pay particular attention to serving size, calories, fat grams and carbs. Let this be your guide for deciding if a product is right for you. And don't forget the old standard: Everything in moderation!

Here's an example of how you might see Nutrition Facts listed on a product:

Calories: 260, Total Fat: 6g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Trans Fat: 0g, Cholesterol: 0mg, Sodium: 200mg, Carbohydrates: 60g, Dietary Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 47g (Includes 40% Added Sugars), Protein: 5g

In this example, we know that in one serving of this product there are 260 calories, 6g of fat, 1g of saturated fat, 0g of trans fat, 20mg of cholesterol, 200mg of sodium and 60g of carbohydrates. We also see that there are 47g of sugar in this product (which is 40% of the total carbs).

Now let's break down the nutrition facts label, which lists out everything that is in a product.

how to read a nutrition facts label

1. Serving Size

The first item on the nutrition facts label is the serving size you should eat. For example, if the serving size says 1 cup of pasta, you can't eat three cups! Also, all of the food in one package equals one serving; for example, a 2-cup measuring cup full of dried spaghetti noodles equals two servings.


2. Calories

Next are calories, which are derived from the amount of energy in a food. One gram of fat equals nine calories, one gram of carbohydrates and protein equals four calories, and one gram of alcohol equals seven calories.

Calories are a measure of how much energy is in each serving. Make sure you know what counts as one serving and what doesn't.


3. Fat

The next item on the label is fat, which contains nine calories per gram. You'll want to keep an eye on this one because too much fat can lead to weight gain and heart disease. Avoid trans fats (see below) by only consuming products that say 0g of trans fat and how much total fat they contain per serving.

Too much fat can lead to weight gain, heart disease and other health problems. Make sure you're only eating healthy fats! The three types of fat are saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated; each one has a different effect on your body. Trans fats are the worst kind of fat for your body and should be avoided.


4. Carbohydrates

The next thing on the nutrition label is carbohydrates, which contain four calories per gram; carbs provide energy to your body and brain. It also includes fiber, which isn't digestible so it doesn't count toward the total amount of carbs in a food.

Carbohydrates are basically sugars and starches that count toward the total amount of carbs in a food. You need some carbs but watch how many you're eating, because too many can raise your blood sugar as well as make it difficult for you to lose weight.


5. Protein

The next thing on the nutrition label is protein, which contains four calories per gram. Protein helps build and repair your muscles but too much can lead to weight gain and other health problems.

Eating lots of lean protein can help you lose weight because there are 4 calories in one gram. Also, protein helps build muscle so it's important for athletes to keep an eye on their level of protein intake.


6. Sodium (salt)

Next on the nutrition label is sodium or salt. This should be avoided in high amounts because it can lead to increased blood pressure. Always check out the ingredient list too; foods like pizza, cereals and bread are full of sodium and need to be avoided if you have high blood pressure or other problems that might arise from too much salt.

It may help to cut back on foods high in salt, like pizza and bread, so that your blood pressure stays healthy.

how to read a nutrition facts label

7. Cholesterol

Cholesterol is the next item on the nutrition facts label, which contains no calories and is found only in animal products. This should be avoided because there is some evidence to suggest that cholesterol can cause heart disease.

Studies show that eating foods high in cholesterol can increase your risk of developing heart disease.


8. Dietary fiber

The next thing on the label is dietary fiber, which contains no calories and helps you feel full. This is important for people who are trying to lose weight because it can curb hunger pangs. Always check out the ingredient list too; foods like things made with white flour don't have a lot of fiber in them.

Fiber helps you feel full so that you can avoid overeating. You also need fiber for a healthy digestive system and to help lower cholesterol. 


9. Sugars

Next are the sugars, which provide four calories per gram. Sugar is bad for your teeth and can lead to weight gain, so it's important to only eat the amount of sugar that you need each day.

It's best to keep sugars within a healthy range. That means avoiding simple sugars like soda, which provide lots of calories but not much else. 


10. Vitamins & Minerals

The last items on the nutrition facts label are vitamins and minerals. These contain zero calories, but they're important for your body to function properly. Be sure you're getting enough of these!

Some vitamins and minerals include iron, calcium and zinc. You need a healthy amount of them, but overdoing it can be harmful so always check with your doctor before taking vitamins and minerals supplements.


Nutrients to avoid on food labels

how to read a nutrition facts label

The number and type of nutrients listed let you know how much energy you are consuming and how are the ingredients of this food product are going to affect or nourish your body.

While reading the label, check for things like saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium; these are things you need to completely avoid if you intend to maintain your health or lose weight.

These four nutrients are notorious for contributing to heart disease and various types of cancers.


Nutrients to looks out for on food labels

On the flip side, look for foods that have high amounts of fiber, calcium, iron, proteins, zinc and a variety of vitamins.

These nutrients will nourish your body and get you through your day without draining you of energy.


The importance of reading labels before you buy something 

how to read a nutrition facts label

It's always important to know what you are eating. You may be surprised at how easy it is to end up consuming too much of any one kind of nutrient, which isn't healthy in the long run.   The nutrition facts label is a great way to check fat, protein and carbohydrate amounts in an easy-to-read format.


1. Helps you know the Percent Daily Value on food labels or % DV

This percentage gives you an idea of the number of nutrients that are available in a single serving. If you intend to avoid or limit a certain nutrient like cholesterol, sodium, trans fat or saturated fat, select food products that show less than 5% Daily Value.

Similarly, if you want to start increasing the protein in your diet, look for food products that contain 20% or more of your daily value.


2. Reading food labels can help you make healthier choices

The fat that shows up on the label is the total for all types of fat, including saturated and trans fat (which are actually considered more harmful than unsaturated). Most foods have some saturated or trans fat simply because they come from animals or plants, but these should be less than 10% of your total fat intake and as low as possible if you're watching your weight or trying to avoid heart disease.


3. Reading the Nutrition Facts label can help you manage diabetes

In general, it's not a good idea to eat many foods that are high in sugar because they can cause spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, which in some cases can lead to diabetes. For that reason, foods that are high in added sugar usually have a teaspoon of granulated white or brown sugar near the box's label.


You might also like: 

19 Healthy Weight Loss Foods For Busy Entrepreneurs

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Top 7 Tips for Reading Nutrition Facts Listed on Packages

how to read a nutrition facts label
  1. Don't be intimidated! Even if you're not a nutritional science expert, reading nutrition labels can be easy
  2. Compare calories among the same type of food, choose wisely if you're trying to watch your weight or manage diabetes or other health conditions.
  3. Know fat and cholesterol content, If you are watching your fat intake, make sure not to eat too much fat! Remember, eating too much fat or cholesterol can increase the risk of disease!
  4. Be aware of sodium, You definitely don't want to eat too much salt which can lead to high blood pressure and other health problems in the future
  5. Look for whole grains, If you have more health concerns like diabetes or heart disease, it's a good idea to emphasize whole grains in your diet
  6. Pay attention to nutrients, Some of the nutrients listed on labels are more important than others and you'll want to make sure you eat a variety of foods that offer key vitamins and minerals for good health!
  7. Be careful with serving size - The next thing you'll want to pay attention to is serving size. You should never rely on what someone else is saying because a serving size will be different for everyone. If it's something like cereal or canned soup, you can read the label to see how much is one serving, but when it comes to foods that are meant to be eaten in small pieces like candy, chips or nuts... they're often smaller than you expect!
  8. Don't stop with just the front of the label. Make sure to check out all parts of the box or container. Sometimes where you least expect it can have a lot of useful information. For instance, ingredients labels are especially helpful when searching for foods that contain meat. Don't forget to look at expiration dates so you don't buy something past its prime.
  9. Finally, Remember, you will need to add extra time to your shopping especially when you have a lot of groceries to do. As you go about reading through the food nutrition labels for products you use regularly you won’t have to repeat the process next time, except of course you are buying something new or different from your staple.
how to read a nutrition facts label

Final Thoughts on How to read a nutrition facts label

You can never be too careful when it comes to what you put in your body. The nutrition facts label on a food's package is one of the most important parts because it gives you all the information that you need about how healthy or unhealthy an item may be for you.

It includes data like calories, fat content and even sugars-all things that are essential to know before making a purchase!

Take some time today to peruse this guide we've created so that next time your grocery shopping trip doesn't leave you with more questions than answers. 

I hope this How To Read A Nutrition Facts Label article has been helpful and informative. Feel free to drop any comments, thoughts and experiences on the topic below. I'll love to chat in the comments section. 


More Resources

What kind of impact does food labelling have on consumption?

The Effects of Nutrition Knowledge on Food Label Use

About the Author Funmi

Funmi is a Certified Functional Health Coach. She is passionate about helping female entrepreneurs transform from Stress and burnout so they can begin to thrive in their body and, by extension, their businesses. 

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