top of page

Nifty Nutrition Strategies: Deciphering a Food Label

Reading a nutrition facts label can be overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to reach health goals and find the best foods for you and your household. But we don’t want it to be hard or daunting! The labels were updated by the FDA in 2016, and implemented throughout 2021 to best serve the consumers, just like you and me. It’s up to us to be aware of these changes and decode the information given to us so we are better-informed buyers. Let’s walk through some of the key points on a nutrition facts label, and learn what these numbers really mean!

Red highlights the serving sizes for the specific food item. Serving sizes are based on the amounts that people actually eat but are just suggestions. Always keep in mind that if you eat more or less than the serving size, the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates, protein, and all other amounts will be adjusted accordingly.

The Green section  tells us about calories, otherwise known as the total amount of energy we get from food. The FDA increased the size of the text to bring more attention to it. 400 or more calories per serving is considered ‘high’ in calories.

Blue highlights share the fat content in the food item, our first macronutrient listed on the label. Total fat and saturated fat are always listed and sometimes, trans fat, which is the type of fat that we should always try to avoid. We can find out how much good fat is in the food by subtracting the amount of saturated fat from total fat. In this example, 8 grams of total fat minus 3 grams of saturated fat tells us there are 5 grams of good fat. This number will tell us how much monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat is in the food, which is better for us than saturated fats. The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fat intake to 7% or less of total calories per day.

Cholesterol is in orange, and it tells us how many milligrams are found in the food. Choleterol is typically found in animal products.

Sodium is purple and the label tells us how many milligrams are found in the food. Always check sodium on food labels because some manufacturers will sneak in sodium to help preserve food. A good rule of thumb is to think of consuming as many milligrams of sodium or less than the total calories in the food. This way, if you’re having around 2,000 calories per day, you’d be consuming around 2,000 mg of sodium as well. The daily recommendation is 2,300 mg for heart health.

Carbohydrates highlighted in tan are listed as Total Carbohydrates, and within this number, you find fiber and sugars, including added sugars. Added sugars are recommended to be consumed as little as possible; fewer than 10% of total calories. This section may be confusing, but use this apple analogy to help decode it. An apple contains roughly 19 grams of total carbs, where 3 grams are from fiber (from the skin), and the remaining 16 grams are digestible carbs, also known as net carbs. Fiber, highlighted in pink, can be thought of as an ‘intestinal broom’ as it helps to clear out waste and improve regularity. Most Americans don’t  get nearly enough fiber, so it’s important to choose foods with fiber in them. Most fruits and vegetables are fiber-containing foods as are whole grains.

Protein is highlighted in dark green. Consuming an adequate amount of protein daily supports all functions in our bodies, including muscle and cell growth. The minimum protein requirement for average Americans is at least 0.8 g per kilogram per body weight.

The Nutrition Facts Labels help consumers make informed decisions. The updates were made as a part of the mission to help decrease diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, likely due to the overconsumption of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium. If you have any questions about how to read your nutrition facts label, reach out to a Kelly’s Choice Registered Dietitian for answers!



bottom of page