Walking through the grocery store and trying to choose healthy items can be a daunting task. Even items that seem like they should be healthy, or are marketed to be a healthier option can still have sneaky ingredients and higher than desired levels of things like carbs, fats, and sugars. 

There is a lot of information packed into the nutrition label, so we want to help you understand what nutrition facts mean and how reading them can help you make informed decisions about what you choose to eat.

Become a smarter shopper by reading food labels to find out more about the foods you eat. Nutrition panels will help you to:

  • Find out which foods are good sources of dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium • Compare similar foods to find out which one is lower in calories 
  • Look for foods that are lower in saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars

A few things to be careful of are saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and added sugars. Eating less of these may help reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer:

  • Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of total calories daily by replacing them with unsaturated fats
  • Limit trans fats to as low as possible. 
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg daily (for adults and children 14 years and older). 
  • Limit added sugar to less than 10% of total calories daily

Now, let’s look at the label!

  • Check ‘Servings Per Container’ and ‘Serving Size’ to see what is recommended. When first trying a new food it is a good idea to measure that food out so in the future you can easily estimate what a single serving looks like.
  • If the package says a serving is 1 cup and what you actually eat is 2 cups, then double the rest of the nutrient facts, since you had two servings.
  • This is how many calories one serving of the food will provide. Adding this number up for all of the foods you eat in a day is how you can figure out your total intake to compare against your goal.
% Daily Value
  • The percentages on the right side of the label let you know what percent of the recommended amount of a nutrient is contained in one serving of that item for someone eating 2000 calories per day. Since your calorie goal probably is different, here is a good rule of thumb for % daily values:
  • Consider a food with 20% or more to be high in that nutrient
  • Consider a food with 5% or less to be low in that nutrient
Macronutrients, Sodium, Fiber
  • This section lets you know how much of each type of macronutrient (protein, fat, carbohydrate) is in one serving, along with other important food components, like sodium and fiber.
  • As a general rule, look for food options with
  • less (or zero) saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium.
  • Higher protein and fiber
  • Try to minimize your intake of foods with added sugars
  • When counting up the content of nutrients, use the grams instead of the percentages, that will help you to compare to your plan’s goals.
Vitamins and Minerals
  • The bottom section of the food label shows how much one serving contains of the various vitamins and minerals, also known as micronutrients. Your dietitian will review with you which of these to pay attention to (along with which you may need to limit) depending on your specific situation or diagnosis.

Learning to use and read nutrition labels will eventually become a habit as you shop. These labels are an important part of choosing foods wisely for you and your family. With good practice, you’ll be able to create healthier meals without much effort, just by being educated on the contents of the package. Remember that whenever possible, whole food and fresh fruits and vegetables are the healthiest options.