How to Read Nutrition Labels
Donna Hayek, RD
1. Look at the size of the ingredient list; the smaller the better. A long list of ingredients usually indicates that the food has endured a lot of processing. Also, you want to make sure you recognize the names of all the ingredients. If you cannot pronounce a word, it probably means it’s not a good choice. All of the ingredients on the label above can be easily deciphered.
2. Check the portion sizes. If you eat one portion you will be getting one serving of that food. If you are eating more than one portion you will need to do some math. For example, this label states the serving size is 2 tbsp. If you eat 4 tbsp, then you will need to double the numbers for the nutrients and vitamins.
3. Look at the carbohydrates. They will be divided into dietary fiber, sugars and added sugars. To check if the food is a good source of fiber, use the 10:1 rule; which means for every 10 grams of carbohydrate, there should be at least 1 gram of fiber. With this label, there are 14 grams of carb per 4 grams of fiber; which comes out to 1.4. If following a 2000 calorie diet, you should get at least 250 grams of carbohydrate per day.
4. Find the protein content. If following a 2000 calorie diet, you should get at least 100 grams of protein per day. With this label, there’s only 6 grams of protein; which is low, so pair this food with another that has higher protein or at the next meal or snack, choose a food with more protein.
5. Look at the fat content. It is broken down into total fat, saturated fat and trans-fat. Try to avoid trans-fat and limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet. If following a 2000 calorie diet, you should consume no more than 65 grams of total fat per day and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat per day. With this label, there is 13 grams of total fat and 2.5 grams of saturated fat per serving, which is on the low side.
Cholesterol should be less than 200 milligrams per day. This label contains no cholesterol.
Sodium should be less than 2400 milligrams per day if no heart disease or less than 1500 milligrams with known heart disease. This label has only 45 grams of sodium, which is low.