Deciphering the Food Label

Sometimes picking up a food product and trying to read the food label can be very confusing. Many people don’t know what to look for, or what everything means and then end up choosing foods that may not be very healthy. I thought I’d share with you guys what I look for, and what I think are the main things you should look at when reading a food label. Here are a few things you should take a look at when checking out a food label:

**Start at the top (servings per container)

Many food products are packaged to look like they are one serving size, when really it may be several. Take a look at the serving size, as well as the servings per package. The servings per package will let you know how many people/servings is in the whole package.

Example: This item has two servings that are one cup each. So this item is two cups, and is meant for two servings.

**Look at the fat (saturated and trans fat/calories from fat)

Once I know how many servings are in the package, as well as the serving size, I’ll look at the fat. In my opinion this is one of the most important places on the actual label to look, especially the saturated and trans fat. Saturated fat and trans fats are the two worst fats that you can eat, so the lower the number the better. Trans fats should be as close to 0 as possible, and saturated fats should be well under 5g.

Another important thing to look at is calories from fat. This number should be about a third of the total calories. This number isn’t the most important, but it’s good to glance at.


Most packaged foods have lots of sodium, so when looking at this just focus on small numbers. Don’t try to worry about memorizing a specific number, just make sure it is small (around 400 mg). Also, take a look at the % Daily Value for this as well to see what the percentage of sodium in a serving is of the recommended daily amount. If you eat about five meals a day, this number should be less than 20% of your daily value.


By far, the ingredients’s list is the most important thing to look at. Sometimes I only look at the ingredients and that’s enough for me to know whether or not the product is something I want to buy. I used to look at the amount of sugar on the food label, but found that if you look at the ingredients and see that there is no added sugar, then the amount of sugar in the product is usually natural, and not added in.

Some key words to avoid in the ingredients list are:

high fructose corn syrup or any thing with the word ‘sugar’, hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils (AKA trans fats), caramel coloring or food dyes, aspartame or anything ending in -ose (artificial sweeteners), carrageenan, lecithin, monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein


This is an ingredient’s list for a Fiber One bar. As you can see, this list is super long and contains ingredients that I’ve never even heard of. In other words, this isn’t the best option for a “healthy” snack bar.

Again this has a super long ingredient list, and key words to avoid like “monosodium glutamate,” “hydrolyzed vegetable protein,” “corn syrup,” “caramel coloring,” ” yellow 5″
Who knew that there would be high fructose corn syrup in tomatoes?!

Words in the ingredient’s list should be words that are familiar, and that you can identify. If you don’t recognize what the ingredient is, then you probably shouldn’t be putting it into your body. Look for a short ingredient list, with only a few items…..just remember: the fewer, the better.

Key things to remember when grocery shopping, and trying to decipher the food label:

1. See how many actual servings are in the package (especially for snack foods)

2. Make sure the saturated and trans fats are small numbers, or as close to 0 as possible

3. Look at the calories from fat, and aim for less than a third fat calories from total calories

4. Take a look at the sodium, and again aim for a low number close to 400 mg

5. If you’re in a rush, at least look at the ingredients and try to avoid ingredients you don’t recognize, or can’t pronounce

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