How To Read A Food Label?

How to decode the food label? Serving size. Trans fat. Saturated fat. Grams of this and that.

What does all that mean and how does it affect your attempt to get lean?

Let’s take a look at how the food labels present you with the information that can make or break your progress.

Food labels started appearing on packaged items back in the 1990′s and now they are tacked onto just about every food you buy whether it be from the grocery store or your local fast food chain.

At first, the law required that calories, fat, carbs, protein and sodium be listed on the packaged products.

In 1993, saturated fats and cholesterol were added and in 2006 all labels would list food allergens and trans fats (the stuff that is formed when manufacturers turn liquids into solid fats for shelf life of their products).

How To Read A Food Label

It has undergone changes, with the latest food label modification released in 2016. A line revealing “added sugars” was added, together with a corresponding 10% Daily Value.

Also, “calories from fat” (the number of calories that make up the food’s total fat count) has been removed because science says the type of fat is more important than the actual amount.

This information was put there to help you and I make better choices, but unfortunately to this day many people still do not fully understand how to read these labels.

That’s what this article is for. To help you understand food label a little bit better.

Serving Size

This one is pretty important if you are at all concerned with losing or keeping some weight off. If you have had “portion control” pounded into your skull, then this is one that your eyes should jump to immediately.

This seems straight forward enough, but you have to really pay attention to “servings per container” when tallying up your total calories.

You may consider that bottle of juice you are holding to be one serving, but the information on the label says 2.5 servings per container. Keep this in mind as you check out the next part.


This is how much caloric energy the food provides you with. Now it’s time for a little math.

Take this number and multiply it by the “servings per container” and you now can see how many calories you would end up putting in you if you were to eat/drink the entire container.

Using our juice example, let’s say the calories are 200. 200 calories x 2.5 servings = 500 calories for drinking the bottle. That’s a lot of calories to drink down, especially if you are trying to control your intake.

With this example you may just drink down 1/3 or 1/4 of your total calorie requirement for the day in one sitting.

% Daily Value

This percent is based on a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Meaning if this item is listed as 20%, then it is 20% of the total recommended for someone using 2,000 calories as their intake. If you are eating more or less then this, then this number would need to be adjusted.

I really wouldn’t worry too much about this number, it’s the calorie number that needs your attention, not the percentage.

Total Fat

This is the combined total of unsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. This one is broken down by each of these luckily so we’ll dig a little further.

Below “Total Fat” the types of fats are listed. Look for “saturated fats.” Ideally you want to have a number that is 3 to 1 saturated fats (meaning 3 total grams of fat with 1 gram saturated per 100 calories).

Basically you want to keep the saturated fat intake as low as possible and avoid trans fat altogether when you can.


This is a fat like substance found in animals. Your body creates much of your cholesterol on its own so the intake of cholesterol from foods in not essential.

The fats from your foods will affect your cholesterol more so than this ingredient so don’t worry too much about this one.

Total Carbohydrates

This is the total amount of carbohydrate fuel this food provides. This particular entry isn’t all that important.

You need about half of your total intake per day to be from carbs anyway. What is important is the type of carbohydrates the food provides to skip on to the next entry.

Dietary Fiber

This is the stuff that cleans your arteries from all of that fat that wants to build up there. Fiber acts as a cleaner for you circulatory and digestive systems. There are two types of fiber, each of which are important to your bodies functions.

Insoluble fiber is digested and as it moves along through your digestive system it helps other foods that you are digesting move along as well. This fiber is easily found in whole wheat, grains, nuts seeds and beans.

Soluble fiber enters into your circulatory system and is what acts to clean your blood vessels of all the fat build up. Great sources would include oranges, apples and oats. Basically the higher the fiber count the better.

See Also: List of Foods High In Fiber.

Total Sugars

Ah the sweet stuff. So sweet that the average American consumes over 150 lbs of it each year. Not all sugar is bad.

In fact there are plenty of sugars occurring naturally in foods. Sugars like fructose (in fruit), galactose and lactose (in milk), maltose (malt sugar) are not the enemy.

It’s the added sugars that are the ones that send your calorie count over the top in foods and send your insulin levels on a roller coaster ride.

Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are the ones to keep your eye on and cut back on as much as possible.


These are amino acids that are the building blocks for your body to produce new muscle and conduct repairs with. Protein is also one of the nutrients that keeps you feeling satisfied after you’ve eaten.

Generally speaking men should aim for about 1g per pound of lean muscle on their body and women shoot for about 0.8g per pound of muscle (take your weight and multiply by your body fat %, then subtract that number from your weight.)

Vitamins and Minerals

This listing is how much of the minimum amount of nutrients required to prevent various deficiency diseases this food provides.

All labels list four basic nutrients: vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium.

Vitamins A and C had been enclosed in former labels when deficiencies of these vitamins were more frequent.

Since they are not so common at present, they have been replaced with vitamin D and potassium, which are more frequent today. Others may be listed if they have been added to the food afterward.

Again the listing just shows the amount provided based on minimums (i.e. the least amount of iron you need to prevent becoming anemic might be 8mg per day and the food label will tell you how much of that it provides.)

See Also: List Of Vitamins: Functions, Sources, Daily Intake.

Food Label Ingredients

This list of items is what’s packed into the food in order by weight from most to least.

So much goes into processed foods to increase its shelf life that the things you expect to find in the food may appear further down on the list than you hoped.

Here just look for things like hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup and if they are there, then make sure they are no higher than fifth in the ingredient list.

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