How to Read Food Labels

Food labels on packaged foods tell a story about the foods you are about to buy and consume. Educating yourself about what they mean and how to read them will provide you with a tool to making educated and healthy food choices.

Apart from the inviting label, they contain two major sections. Nutrients section and Ingredient list both are important. Here is a couple of my personal observations followed by the FDA’s detailed flyer:


The Ingredient List tells you what you are about to put in your body. It contains all the ingredients used to create the food. The ingredients’ list is organized in a descending order calculated by weight. The first ingredient on the label is what the food mostly contains. The further down the list the less of an ingredient. So if the first ingredient on a label is sugar, what you will consume mostly is sugar. The label will also contain a listing of major food allergens such as milk, fish, nuts, wheat, peanuts, soybeans, etc. Important to those with food allergies.

My advice: The less ingredients on the label the better. Too many words you do not understand means an excessive chemicals’ contents (try to avoid). I personally start with the ingredients. I try to aim for a 5 ingredients’ list or less and ones that I understand.

Nutrient Section:

This is the square box with all the information set up in a table with Nutrition Facts header. This section provides you with a serving size and how many serving in the package, can or box. It lists information about the calories you would consume from one serving (United States version). So if you choose to eat the whole container, the calories you it would be the calorie x how many servings.

It also contains several nutrients’ information such as Cholesterol, Sodium, Vitamins and minerals. It further also breaks down the calories’ composition into three parts: fats, carbohydrates and proteins.

Essential to note on the calorie content side that it identifies the calories from fat (a multiple of: The fat grams x 9). Meaning the remaining calories come from carbohydrates and proteins. If you like to also know how many calories come from Proteins or Carbohydrates you would multiple the number of the label by 4. On the FDA’s label below, the carbohydrates calories would be 220 (55 x 4) and the protein would be 56 (14x 4). The carbohydrates section also breaks down Sugar and Fiber content. In the FDA’s label example it is 23 g (the less the better). The Dietary fiber is 6 g (the more the better). The sugar in this label for example is 31% of the serving – 23×4 = 92 / 300 = 0.3066 or 31% rounded.

Take the time to read the following flyer and educate yourself about food labels. When you shop for food, compare the brands and make healthier choices.