Label Reading 101

Learning to read the "Nutrition Facts" food labels on packaged food is an invaluable tool for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Rhea Medical Center's diabetes and weight loss classes include education concerning food labels. Here are some quick tips to help you decipher the side your cereal box or candy bar:

1. Serving Size: It is important that you pay attention to the serving size because it influences all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Serving sizes are based on the amount of food people typically eat, which may or may not be your preferred serving size.

2. Calories and Calories from Fat: This number refers to the number of calories and amount of fat in a serving size.

3. Nutrients: The nutrients section lists the daily amount of each nutrient in the food package, based on current nutrition recommendations. The "% Daily Value" shows how a food fits into a 2,000 calorie/day diet. For fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, choose foods with a low percentage of daily value. For total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, consider setting a goal for yourself for each nutrient.

4. Ingredients:
The ingredients contained in a product are usually listed from largest to smallest amount (by weight). Therefore, a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient. A good rule of thumb is to stick with packaged foods that have shorter lists of ingredients.

5. Label Claims: Many food are marketed with label claims that boast "Low fat" or "Reduced Cholesterol." Here's a key to help you understand what those claims actually mean:

  • Fat free or sugar free: less than 0.5 gram of fat or sugar
  • Low fat: 3 grams of fat or less
  • Reduced fat or reduced sugar: at least 25% less fat or sugar
  • Cholesterol free: less than 2 milligrams cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
  • Reduced cholesterol: at lest 25 percent less cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
  • Calorie free: less than five calories
  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less
  • Light: 1/3 fewer calories or 50 percent less fat