How to Read Nutrition Labels

Food labels or nutrition labels are read by the consumers for various reasons. Few people compare the brands. The terms used on food label are difficult to understand and they are printed really very small which makes very difficult to read with naked eye are the problems faced by the consumers. Nutritional information will be understood people by TV advertisements, magazines etc. Labels are considered more consumer friendly when benchmarks regarding serving size are provided. Consumers with special dietary needs used nutritional labels regularly.

Nutrition label

What is nutrition label?

The nutrition label helps you determine the amount of calories and nutrients in one serving of food. Nutrients include fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals. This information helps you to know whether you are eating a healthy, balanced diet.

The nutrition facts label has many numbers which are confusing with complicated calculations that will give you memories of mathematics in school. Many times you may buy a product with a real claim but unknowingly overlook the undesirable ingredients. For example if you are going to purchase a fat free product, though it is fat free it may have plenty of sugars which is also not healthy. When you begin to read it, make sure what you are looking for.

Various names on the food label

Serving size

A serving size is the amount of food that is typically eaten in one serving. It is listed as a general household measurement, such as pieces, cups or ounces. Serving size is an important part of a healthy diet. Eating very large servings (or portions) can contribute to weight gain because as you eat larger portions, you eat more calories. It’s important to compare the serving size listed on the container to the amount of that food that you normally eat.

Calorie meter

If the total calories per serving are 170 and calories from fat 60, two servings of this food item mean you consumed 340 calories with 120 of the calories coming from fat. In India, the normal calorie intake is supposed to be 2,400 calories in rural areas and 2,200 in urban areas.
  • 40 Calories is low
  • 100 Calories is moderate
  • 400 Calories or more is high
Be careful as ‘low fat’ may not always mean ‘low calories’.

Saturated fat

Saturated fat, trans-fat and cholesterol are the ingredients to limit in your diet. These ingredients cause heart diseases and increase cholesterol levels. The average adult should not consume not more than 20gm of saturated fat per day.

Trans-fats are oils which have been chemically modified to increase a product’s shelf life. They are harmful as they increase the levels of bad cholesterol while reducing good cholesterol. Trans-fat intake should be 0 gm per day. When you read a nutrition label remember that companies are allowed to list the amount of trans-fat as “0 grams” if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. This means that your food can contain some trans-fat even if the nutrition label says “0 grams” per serving. It may be mentioned as hydrogenated vegetable oil on the label.

Cholesterol intake should be less than 300mg per day (less than 200mg if you heart-related disorders).

Unsaturated fat

This fat is good for the body as they lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of developing coronary heart diseases.
  • Polyunsaturated fatty acids- They are required for the body for proper functioning such as tissue building, blood clotting and fighting inflammation. If you spot Omega-3 and Omega-6, this indicates polyunsaturated fatty acids. Other sources include un-hydrogenated soybean oil, canola oil, flax seeds and walnuts
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids- Most nuts contain these. You may want to consider products made in olive oil or groundnut oil as a source of monounsaturated fats

Percent daily value (%DV)

The percent DV component tells you about the percentage of each nutrient in one serving of the food product. It is also called as RDA recommended dietary allowance. Mostly one column indicates recommended DV and other the amount present in the product.


Indians consume about 3.7 grams of sodium, corresponding to about 9.3 grams of salt per day. This is near twice the amount recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Most processed foods are packed with sodium since it is a type of preservative. Check the amount while purchasing. Depending on the age, the amount of salt intake should be reduced.

Be careful as it shows less salt content but they may have used substitute.


Carbohydrates are an instant source of energy for the body. They can instantly spike the level of blood sugar. So if you have any medical condition such as diabetes or sedentary lifestyle, you may want to take these in prescribed amounts only.


Sugar also provides energy to the body, the direct cause of an increase in the level of sugars in the blood, sugars should be in a low quantity in the food. Sugar names are like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.

Be careful, sugar-free doesn’t mean carbohydrate free.


Fiber is something we lack in our diet. Fiber is known to improve bowel movement, digestion and fight cholesterol. So we need more of fiber in our diet. Any food that contains 2.5 – 4.9gm of fiber is a good source of fiber. Fiber is found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Even if there is a negligible amount of whole grains in the food they will mention it.


Protein should be in good quantity in your diet.


A food with 20% DV or more with calcium is good. Calcium helps in maintaining strong bones.

Vitamins and minerals

The nutrition label lists vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. You should try to get more of these nutrients in your daily diet, as well as other vitamins and minerals that are not listed on the label.

Apart from above the food also consists of flavoring agents, preservatives, coloring agents, sweeteners, thickening agents, emulsifiers etc. Which also add calories to your diet. They may be added for specific purpose or as a substitute for any other ingredients mentioned above.

In short foods which are high in fiber, vitamins and minerals are good and foods which are high in fats, cholesterol, sugars are bad.

Apart from the price, date of manufacturing and expiration make a habit to read the nutrition label. Calculate the nutrients how much will you consume and check it with the servings mentioned on the label. More frequently you read the labels you will be habituated to it and use this tool for healthy balanced diet. It is quite interesting once you understand it.

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