How to Read a Food Nutrition Label

How to Read a Food Nutrition Label

Do you really know what you’re eating?

Picture yourself walking through the grocery store, headed towards the packaged meats. You get to the bacon, pick up a package, flip it over and you see...

Farmer John Classic Bacon Nutrition Label
Photo Source: Farmer John

What the fudge does this all mean?!

For the most part, when you first pick up a package, there are usually five main mandatory elements on a food nutrition label, unless a food producer is exempted from labeling their product. These elements are:

  • statement of identity,
  • the product’s net weight,
  • manufacturer’s address,
  • nutrition facts, and
  • ingredients list

However, exceptions apply here as well. For example, if you are producing a single-ingredient food product, such as honey, you don’t need to include an ingredients list. There are exceptions to this as well. If you produce honey, but add sweeteners or some other ingredients, then you do need to include that information on your honey label. This is only a small example of how complex labeling regulations can be and how carefully you need to inform yourself in order to accurately present your product to the consumers.

In order to decipher these complicated labels an hone in on what's important, here is...

What to look for on Food Nutrition Labels

1. Look at serving size - packages often contain more than one serving, meaning you have to multiply all of the amounts of nutrients to estimate what you are actually consuming if it is more than one serving.

2. Check calorie count - pay attention to how many calories are in the packaged food in comparison to your daily total intake in order to prevent consuming a food that will make up the majority of your daily caloric needs.

3. Avoid bad fats - look for nutrition labels with 0 g trans-fat, and limit saturated fat and hydrogenated oils.

4. Not all fats are bad fats - the majority of the fats you consume should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats that are found in fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.

5. Limit sodium intake - the recommended daily limit on sodium is 2,300 mg, which is about 1 teaspoon of salt; packaged foods are typically high in sodium to increase shelf life.

6. Choose food items with short ingredient lists - ingredients are listed in order by weight, the 1st item on the list makes up the majority of that food; look for ingredients you recognize, can pronounce, and that belong in food.

7. Be cautious of hidden sugars - sugar is found in many processed foods, but sometimes it may be difficult to recognize as it is often listed as another name; for example: dextrose, glucose, lactose, galactose, maltose, sucrose, mannitol, xylitol, sorbitol, beet sugar, cane sugar, corn sugar, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrins, maple sugar, all essentially mean the same thing – sugar! Choose yogurts with 7 grams or less, and condiments/sauces/dressings with 3 grams or less.

Common Labeling Terms and What they Mean:

  • Fat-free: contain less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
  • Calorie-free: < 5 calories for a given amount
  • % fat-free: contains 3 grams or less of total fat for a given amount
  • Saturated fat-free: • Low-fat: 3 grams or less of total fat for a given amount
  • Low-calorie: < 40 calories for a given amount
  • Low-sodium: < 140 milligrams of sodium per serving
  • High-fiber: at least 5 grams of fiber per serving


10 Ways to Get To Know Your Food Better:

1. Go Organic!

The USDA National Organic Standards prohibit the use GMOs so if you're looking for the USDA Organic're good to go

2. Look for the "9" on fresh produce labels to make sure you're safe.
If you see a 5 digit PLU sticker that starts with an "8"... it's genetically modified

Read a PLU Label

3. Be Informed
As of Sept 2013, these are the only US crops grown commercially from GMO seed: alfalfa, canola, corn, cotton, Hawaiian papaya, soy, sugar beets, yellow summer “crook-neck” squash and zucchini.

4. Eat Your Fruits and Veggies
Most fresh produce is non-GMO; sweet corn, Hawaiian papaya, edamame, zucchini and yellow summer squash are the only produce items currently grown commercially from GMO seed*.

5. Consider the Additives
The five most prevalent GMO crops of corn, canola, soy, cotton and sugar beets end up as additives in all kinds of packaged foods as corn syrup, oil, sugar, flavoring agents, thickeners and other additives. Over 70% of packaged food products in North America contain GMOs. Choose organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

6. Check the Source on Meat and Dairy
Milk, cheese, eggs, beef, chicken and pork could all be from animals that were fed GMO feed. Choose organic or Non-GMO Project Verified.

7. Go Wild
Some farmed fish eat GMO feed. Choose wild-caught seafood or farmed oysters, mussels and clams (they aren’t given supplemental feed).

8. Feel Good About Frozen Food
Most frozen fruits and vegetables are non-GMO. Frozen fruits and vegetables without additives are good non-GMO choices unless from one of these five high-risk crops: sweet corn, Hawaiian papaya, edamame, zucchini and yellow summer squash.

9. Go for Legumes, Dry Grains, Beans, Nuts and Seeds
As long as you avoid corn and soy, choosing dry beans, grains, nuts and seeds is a great way to go non-GMO.

10. Drink Responsibly
All wine and beer labeled either "organic" or "made with organic"  must use non-GMO yeast. Wine grapes and the grains used to make beer are not typically GMO.

*Some GMO versions of apples and other crops are being tested but are not currently approved to be planted for commercial production. GMO versions of tomatoes and potatoes have been approved for planting, but are not currently in commercial production.

You have the right to know what’s in your food!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.