How to read food labels for eating healthy

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

Packing information laws are slowly changing to help consumers learn more about what they are buying.

This information will help you make conscientious, healthy, and environmentally sound choices if you choose to buy packaged foods.

The following information will help you better understand food labels. 

I call it: The Basic Food Label Guidelines

Serving size. This is the number that all the other numbers on the food label are based on. Pay attention to this number to determine the actual number of calories, fats, proteins, and carbohydrates you might consume. The serving size is usually just a fraction of the whole package.

Servings per container. This lets you know your multiplication factor, should you consume several servings or the entire package.

For example, an 8-ounce bag of chips that lists 150 calories (which is about 40% fat or 60 fat calories) per 1-ounce serving actually contains 1,200 calories, if you consume the whole bag (and that includes about 500 calories of fat)!

Calories. This represents the number of calories in 1 serving. A calorie is a unit of energy or heat that your body generates from the food you eat.

Proteins and carbohydrates offer about 4 calories of energy per gram; the richer fats give more than double the calories at 9 calories of energy per gram.

If we take in an excess of calories, especially sugar and starches, they are stored in the body as fat, and this can lead to weight gain and obesity.

The key to good nutrition is to consume primarily wholesome foods that are high in their nutrient-to-calorie ratio.

Calories from carbohydrates. These are not listed. However, you can get this total by multiplying the number of carbohydrates by 4.

Calories from fats. The number of fat calories per serving.

The next thing to focus on is your macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, and fats

Total Carbohydrates. The number of carbohydrates per serving.  This is further broken down into 2 categories; fiber and sugar.  A healthier option will be one that has higher fiber content and lower sugar content.

Total Proteins.   The amount of protein per serving.  Proteins help keep you full for longer and are key in muscle building and recovery.

Total fats. The total grams of fat in each serving. This can be broken down into Saturated, Polyunsaturated, and Monounsaturated fats.

Saturated fats. The total number of saturated fats per serving. Multiplying this figure by 9 will get you the number of saturated fat calories.

Limit this type of fat, which is primarily found in animal foods and has been implicated in many diseases such as; cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Polyunsaturated fats. The number of grams of polyunsaturated fat per serving.

Monounsaturated fats. The number of grams of monounsaturated fats in each serving.

We should consume more of the healthier monounsaturated fats and fewer saturated and polyunsaturated ones.

Vitamins and minerals.  Some products may contain certain vitamins and minerals and will be listed on the label as well.

So, I am listing what you need to pay attention to on the nutrition labels.


Another important part of the food label is the list of ingredients. The contents are listed in order by quantity - the predominant ingredients in the product are listed first and the smallest last.

This is an important point. Recently, I found an all-organic treat that sounded pretty healthy, but it contained more sugar than anything else (it was the first ingredient listed).

The ingredient list on the label is also where the direct additives are listed (along with the food components).

Food labels provide information that can help us choose foods wisely and thereby reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer and help cope with specific health conditions.

Another thing to look for is food certification program symbols which are listed under government regulations such as:

Organic claims on food labels. Only products with organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% may be labeled or advertised as "organic" or bear the organic logo. Terms such as "organically grown", "organically raised, "organically produced", or similar words, abbreviations of, symbols for, and phonetic renderings of these words are considered the same as "organic" claims and must meet the same requirements

Organic ingredients claim.

Multi-ingredient products containing between 95-100% organic content.

For more further information check the website: https://www.inspection.gc.c

These are some of the examples, often labeled.

USDA’s National Organic Program regulates labeling requirements for organic agricultural products. Organic labels can be found on produce, dairy, meat, processed foods, condiments, and beverages. Food products labeled “organic” must contain at least 95% organic ingredients with no synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, biotechnology, synthetic ingredients or irradiation used in production or processing. Products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients and are produced without synthetic methods are labeled “made with organic ingredients,” though they cannot use the USDA organic seal on their packaging.

The Non-GMO Project is a non-profit organization that provides the only third-party labeling program in North America for products grown without using genetic engineering. They verify that the process products go through, from seed to shelf, are produced according to their rigorous best practices for GMO avoidance.

For more Information on other certifications, food labels visit the website:

I hope you found the information about food labels informative and will help you make wiser decisions.

Now I'm gonna give you...

Bonus things to think about if you buy pre-packaged foods:

Tip # 1 Minimize the purchase of foods packaged in plastics, Styrofoam, and other non-biodegradable packaging. "Pre-cycle" means not buying products you can't recycle. This will create a demand for the production of environmentally sound packaging.

Tip # 2 Additives to avoid include: artificial colors, excess sugar, and salts, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), as well as nitrites and sulfites

Tip # 3 A simple shopping guideline to follow is, "if you can't pronounce it, don't buy it.

For a visual illustration of nutrition facts or food labels check out our nutritionist YouTube Channel.

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