Ever try to read a food label only to get confused because you don’t know what to look for… how much sodium or fat is too much and what do all the percentages mean? Here’s a quick cheat sheet to help you decipher the label and make healthy food choices.
Serving size and servings per container
Beware that “serving size” is not always the whole package. If the serving size on the label is one cup and you eat two cups, you’re getting twice the calories and fat, along with all the other nutrients!
Note that these are the calories per serving, not the whole container.
A low calorie food is 40 calories or less per serving.
Calories from fat
Limit fat by choosing foods with less than 30% of calories from fat.
This includes saturated and unsaturated fats. Limit saturated fat to less than 10% of total calories. A low fat food has 3 grams or less per serving.
Aim to avoid foods with trans fats. Food companies are allowed to list 0 grams of trans fats if the product contains less than 0.5 grams. Read the ingredient label and look out for hidden trans fats which are referred to as partially hydrogenated oils.
Cholesterol is only found in animal products. Limit cholesterol to less than 300 mg a day. A low cholesterol food contains 20 mg or less per serving.
Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) sodium per day, and even further reduce intake to 1,500 mg if you are 51 and older or if you are of any age and are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. Low sodium is 140 mg or less per serving (avoid high sodium foods with 400 mg or more per serving).
Includes fiber and sugar.
Aim for ~35 grams of fiber per day. Choose foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving (5 grams per serving is considered high fiber).
Choose foods that contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving.
On the ingredient panel, look out for hidden sugars disguised as: corn syrup, dextrin, honey, brown sugar, molasses, maple syrup, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, glucose.
% Daily Value (DV)
This is an estimate of how individual foods contribute to your daily diet (based on 2,000 calories a day). Simply add up all the percentages “% daily value” from the foods you eat for a specific nutrient. If you reach 100% then your daily recommendations have been met
5% or less DV is low – aim for low in total fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. 20% or more DV is high – aim for high in vitamins (A and C), minerals (calcium and iron) and fiber.
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. So if sugar is the first ingredient you can be sure the product contains too much sugar.