Reading Food Labels

Reading Food Labels

One important aspect of developing and maintaining healthy eating habits is reading food labels. If you know what to look for and understand what various terms mean, it will help you to make healthier choices in deciding what to eat for your meals and snacks.

A healthy diet can help in many ways, including:

  • Eating right helps you look better (skin, hair and weight may improve), feel better, and stay healthier.

  • You’ll be stronger and think more clearly. This may help you perform better at sports and in school.

  • You may also be less likely to feel stressed or depressed.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation presents the following information on reading food labels:

Checking the labels of your food can help you understand the ingredients and nutritional value of your food. Here are some tips:

  • Ingredients: Remember that the first ingredient listed is the one that make up most of the product. The last ingredient is the smallest part of the product.

  • Serving size: Not all people eat the same amount of food at a single sitting.

  • Compare calories: It's important to compare the calorie content of foods. Sometimes it's better to choose the product with fewer calories per serving; however, a high calorie food with more nutrients might be a better choice in some cases. If you're looking at calories in a snack

    • 40 calories per serving is low

    • 100 calories per serving is moderate

    • 400 calories or more per serving is high

  • Fats: A diet with a high intake in fat, especially saturated fats, can lead to increased risk of heart disease. Choose foods that have 35 percent or less of fat calories. To find this divide the fat calories by total calories and the number should be less than 0.35. Also, choose foods that are low in saturated and trans fats.

  • Carbohydrates: On food labels, carbohydrates are listed as grams total, grams of sugar, and grams as dietary fiber. Many foods are naturally high in sugar, such as fruits and milk. If a sugar is one of the first three ingredients, the food will have a lot of sugar. If you see sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, this means sugar.

  • Fiber: Remember adults need 25-30 grams of fiber a day while kids need more than 5 grams.

  • Vitamins/Minerals: Vitamins and minerals are listed as a percent daily value based on a 2000 calorie per day. If the percent is higher than 10 percent, the food is a good source of that particular nutrient. If it’s higher than 20 percent then it's an excellent source of that nutrient.

  • Sodium: It's recommended that we eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium a day.

  • Fat free: This means less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving

  • Low Fat: This means less than three grams of fat or less per serving.

  • Reduced Fat: This is used to describe a product that has the fat reduced by at least 25% as compared with a standard serving of the traditional food.

  • Lite/Light: This means 1/3 fewer calories or 50 percent less fat as compared with a standard serving size of the traditional food. The term "light" can also be used to describe properties, such as texture and color.

  • Cholesterol Free: This means less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat per serving.

  • Reduced Calorie: This means the food has been altered and contains at least 25 percent less calories than the regular product.

  • More: This means that a serving of food altered or not, contains a nutrient that is at least 10 percent of the Daily Value more than the standard food.

It's also important to remember that some of the healthiest foods won’t have any food label. Think about buying fresh vegetables from a farmer’s market!