Reading Food Labels: The Why and The How

By Susan K. Manez MS,RD,CDN


  • Allows you to choose foods and beverages that fit within your eating plan
  • Provides you with information about the nutrition quality of the foods and beverages you are consuming
  • Helps you compare items so you may make the best choices for you and your family


Below are the steps you need to take to properly read nutrition facts labels:

  1. Serving Size – This is the portion that all nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts label are based on. Below Serving Size you will see Servings Per Container, which tells you how many servings are in the container. Keep in mind that most packages contain multiple servings.
  2. Calories – The number of calories in a single serving. For weight loss a very low calorie diet (less than or equal to 800 calories per day) is recommended so choose only low calorie items to avoid consuming excessive calories.
  3. Total Fat/Cholesterol – The amount of all the different kinds of fat in 1 serving. Avoid foods high in saturated and trans fats and cholesterol, as these are not good for your heart.
  4. Sodium – Daily goal is < 2000 mg/day, unless otherwise instructed by your MD, NP or RD.
  5. Total Carbohydrates – This includes starch, sugar, fiber, and sugar alcohol. To promote weight loss we recommend a carbohydrate limit of 20 grams or less per day.
  6. “Impact” Carbohydrates – Subtract fiber from Total Carbohydrates to calculate the number of carbohydrates that count toward your daily count.
  7. Fiber – goal is 25-35 grams per day. You will likely need to use a fiber supplement (i.e. Benefiber powder) to achieve this goal.
  8. Protein – On average you should aim for 60-80 grams of protein daily, unless otherwise advised by MD, NP or RD. A meal should consist of 15-25 grams protein. The NP’s may modify these ranges, RD’s or MD’s to better meet your needs.
  9. Ingredient List – The ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (from most to least). Avoid food/beverages with sugars at the top of the ingredient list. These include corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and syrups.

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