How to Read Food Labels

Learning how to read food labels – and trying to understand them – can mimic the experience of reading an ancient manuscript written in a long lost language despite the fact that they are written in English.

It is easy to misread them, which can be dangerous for your health.  Unfortunately, unscrupulous manufacturers use consumer misunderstandings to market their products as being essential for an improved and healthy lifestyle – when the reality the product does exactly the opposite.

Natural and Organic

The labels natural and organic are found everywhere these days to convince you and me that the foods are “good for us.” Be careful – do not be misled by these labels.

“Natural” means that the ingredients are found in nature – but that does not mean that the ingredients are healthy. A product can be made with all natural ingredients; but, still have a tremendously high fat, calorie, salt or sugar content.

The problem with the “Organic” label is similar.  “Organic” indicates that the food item was grown using natural fertilizers and pesticides – nothing more.  Organically produced foods are definitely better for you when bought and used fresh from the farm; but that does not guarantee that a finished, processed product using organic foods is a healthy choice. For example, organic white sugar is just as bad for your body as non-organic white sugar.

Similarly, even if oranges are organically grown, when they are processed to create packaged orange juice, it is still just empty calories – the same as the juice that is produced from non-organically grown packaged orange juice

I know all of that is common sense, but manufacturers rely on us to buy without really thinking. It is easy to be swayed by the powerful hype about the importance of buying “natural”’ and “organic” foods.

Fat-Free and Low-Fat

The labels “Fat-free” and “low-fat” are huge consumer traps that play on your desire for a healthier diet. These products may in fact be lower in fat, but there is a very good chance that in order to maintain the taste, the salt and sugar content is considerably higher than usual.  Such changes are very damaging to your health.

How to Read Nutrition Labels

Nutrition Labels
American Heart Association

Nutrition labels are mandatory for most packaged foods, and must contain the nutritional value and the ingredients list. Learn to read and understand both. Make sure that the food items you buy will contribute to a healthier lifestyle, rather than do just the opposite.






Always Check the Following:

Serving Size   Nutrition Label - Serving Size

This is listed at the top of the label. You must note the serving size in order to calculate the nutrients and calories you will consume.  One package is often two or more servings. Unfortunately, many people assume that one package is one serving. That is rarely the case.


Nutrition Label - Calories

This is a measure of the energy provided. Pay particular attention to the calories from fat. Generally speaking, most Americans eat far more calories than they need each day. Keep in mind that the calories are measured “per serving” not per package.

NutrientsNutrients such as cholesterol, fats and sodium should be eaten in moderation.

Limit your intake of these nutrients

Daily Required % Intake Foods that contain high %DV of dietary fiber and low %DV of cholesterol, fats and sodium will help you lower the risk of heart disease.

Remember that not all fats are bad. Choose foods that contain unsaturated fats and avoid trans-fats completely! Also – watch the cholesterol – high-density lipoprotein (HDL) reduces the risk of heart disease while low-density lipoprotein (LDL) increases it.

Always check the label for the sodium content as many foods have a high %DV without tasting salty. A higher than recommended sodium content increases the risk of several diseases.

The following nutrients are vital for your health and should be consumed daily.

Good Nutrients

Percentage of daily value (%DV) – This provides the amount of each nutrient contained in one serving compared with the daily intake value (based on a diet of 2,000 calories) of that nutrient as recommended by the FDA. Less than 5% content is a low nutrient content and 20% or more is high.  (Your personal daily requirement can differ and depends on factors such as age, daily activity and gender.)  

Remember – the percentages are PER SERVING. If you eat two servings, you must double the amounts shown!

For a more detailed explanation of how to read a label, go to….. FDA Food Labeling.