Label-Reading Basics

Reading and understanding the Nutrition Facts labels on packaged food products are handy skills to hone to ensure that you are better prepared to make healthy and economic choices.

The Nutrition Facts label was recently redesigned and is now required to be prominently featured on all products by 2021. This redesign will make it make it easier to read labels and distinguish between different products. Servings per container and calories per serving must be listed in a larger font size on the new labels, and there is a new “added sugar” section under Total Carbohydrates. The “added sugar” information will show you whether the food has natural sugar, such as sugar from fruit, or added sugars (sugar, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, syrup etc.). Finally, the updated label will require that Vitamin D and Potassium percentages be listed under Nutrition Facts, since many Americans are deficient in these nutrients.

Nutrition label

With so much information on a tiny portion of the package, it can be overwhelming to determine exactly what to focus on and what is most important in deciding whether a product is a good choice. Follow these simple steps when reading a Nutrition Facts label:

1. Determine the serving size of a portion and note how many servings are included per container.

  • In the example above, one can of soup contains two servings, meaning there are 320 calories total.
  • Generally, meals should contain between 300 and 700 calories, and snacks should contain fewer than 200 calories.

2. Recognize that the percentages featured in the middle of the label correspond to the total fat contained in the product (both saturated and transfat), cholesterol and sodium per serving.

  • In the example above, the fat and cholesterol content is considered acceptable for both options. However, you can see the “reduced sodium” soup has significantly less sodium and therefore would be the better option.
  • Look at the Daily Value percentages for these components and try to find foods that contain lower percentages. (low percentage = <5%; high percentage = >20%)

3. Notice the nutrients listed at the bottom of the label (Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron and Potassium)

  • In the example above, these soups are low sources of most vitamins and minerals. But, on a positive note, there is a moderate amount of potassium and a high amount of dietary fiber.
  • Look at the Daily Value percentages for these nutrients and try to find foods that contain higher percentages. (Low percentage = <5%; High percentage = >20%)