Understanding and Reading Food Labels - SBH Health System
Image of person reading food label

Like the table of contents in a book, nutrition labels help explain what’s inside of the food you are eating.

The Nutrition Facts label is always printed on the outside of packaged food and can help you in making healthy and informed choices when it comes to your diet.

  1. Always compare claims to facts: Companies can easily label a product with a deceiving health claim on the front of the package. Make sure you turn it over and read the label on the back.
  2. Always start at the top: Always check the serving size noted at the top of the label first because everything else listed is based on this. The next thing to think about is whether or not this is the serving you will be consuming. If you plan to have more servings than the amount listed on the label, then make sure to multiply everything else on the label by the amount of servings you plan to eat. For example, a 20-oz soft drink that you plan to drink with lunch may list that it contains 2.5 servings. This means everything on the label must be multiplied by that number.

  3. Look at more than just the calories: Although calories consumed are important for weight loss and weight maintenance, it is important to remember that this number isn’t everything. Many healthy foods (such as nuts) tend to be higher in calories, and a food that is low in calories may contain a lot of sodium or saturated fat. Read through the entire label to get the full picture!

  4. Look for the nutrients: Eat more fiber (aim for 25-30g per day), vitamins A & C, calcium and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain problems such as anemia and osteoporosis. Remember to aim and choose foods with a high percentage daily value (20% or more) of these beneficial nutrients.

  5. Aim low in the following areas: With saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and added sugar, you should be looking for lower numbers on the label. Aim for low percentage daily value of these nutrients (ideally less than 5% daily value)
    Image of Nutrition Label

    Less than 2300mg of sodium per day, unless you are over the age of 51 or have a history of high blood pressure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, in which case you should aim for 1500mg or less. A “low” sodium product should contain 140mg or less per serving.


Rebecca Ditkoff