Written by Andrea Hanson under the direction and review of Ann Schwader.
All packaged foods have labels that contain useful information to guide us to better understand the healthfulness of food. Nutrition facts labels are an important tool for planning and eating a diet full of helpful nutrients. Check out the tips and tricks below to use and understand a food label.
Food Label Tips
- Serving Size
When reading a nutrition facts label, first check the product’s serving size and servings per container. Serving sizes are generally given in common measurements like cups or pieces and represent how much product is considered one serving. However, many packaged food items contain more than one serving, so be sure to note the number of servings per container because the calorie and nutrient breakdown is based on one serving size only.
Calories indicate how much energy you are consuming per one serving of food, so if you eat two servings, your calories double as well. Calories from fat represents how many total calories come from fat. We all need calories from food to fuel our bodies, but try looking for foods high in fiber or protein, not just calories.
- Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium
Although some fat is required to grow and function, eating too much fat, cholesterol and sodium (also known as salt) can have a negative impact on your health. When reading food labels, try choosing foods that have lower amounts of these.
- Fiber, Vitamins and Minerals
Make sure to get enough of these nutrients! Americans often do not consume enough dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals daily so use the food label to find foods that provide these nutrients. Try to have an increased focus on eating these; they can have positive effects on your overall health.
- Carbohydrates and Protein
Carbohydrates and protein are necessary for daily function and are used to give the body energy. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are some healthier carbohydrate sources that provide many beneficial nutrients. Protein also helps to repair and maintain body tissues. Lean sources of protein like chicken or beef may not have a nutrition facts label, but will provide several essential nutrients.
- Daily Values
The percent daily values section of food labels is based on 100% of the daily requirements of each nutrient for a standard 2000 calorie diet. Use this section to choose foods that provide things you should eat more of and provide less of things you should limit.
- Ingredient List
The ingredient list shows each ingredient by its common or usual name. Ingredients are listed in order by weight, with the ingredient contributing most to overall product weight listed first, and the ingredient with the least by weight will be listed last.
Next time you are in the grocery store looking for some healthier products to round out your diet, try referencing the food label. Be sure to take note of the serving size, calories, and various nutrients the product offers.
Try the following healthy recipes; they are easy to serve anytime.
Courtesy of U.C. Davis
- 1 (15.5 ounce) can beans, low-sodium (pinto, kidney, red, or black)*
- 1 (15 ounce) can corn*
- 1 (15 ounce) can crushed tomatoes*
- ½ tsp Chili powder
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp cumin
- ¼ tsp oregano
*Note: Do not drain beans, corn or tomatoes.
- Place all ingredients into a large pot, mix well, heat and serve.
- Refrigerate leftovers.
- Add lean beef, chicken or turkey to your chili.
- Try using chili-style beans or chili-seasoned canned tomatoes to enhance the flavor of your dish.
- Add shredded cheese, fresh vegetables, or crackers to your chili before serving for additional freshness and flavor.
Nutrition Facts: Calories: 108, Fat: 1 g, Carbohydrates: 36 g, Dietary Fiber: 7 g, Protein: 6 g, Sodium: 254 mg. Serves 6 (1 cup) servings.
Easy Fruit Salad
Courtesy of University of California Extension
- 1 (16 ounce) can drained fruit cocktail
- 2 bananas, sliced
- 2 oranges, cut into small pieces
- 2 apples, cut into small pieces
- 8 ounce yogurt, any flavor
- Mix fruit in a large bowl.
- Add yogurt and mix well.
- Chill in refrigerator before serving.
- Try using other canned or frozen fruits in your fruit salad. Mandarin oranges, canned pineapple, pears or peaches are a few options.
- Substitute your favorite fruits for any of the fruits in this recipe.
- Try adding some granola or whole-grain toast to your fruit salad for a healthy breakfast or snack.
Nutrition Facts: Calories: 70, Fat: 0 g, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Dietary Fiber: 2 g, Protein: 1 g, Sodium 10 mg. Serves 14 (1/2 cup) servings.
For additional information on how to read Nutrition Food Labels check out the following links:
- Food Facts, FDA
- How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label, FDA
- Using the Nutrition Facts Label: A How-To Guide for Older Adults, FDA