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How to Read Food Labels


By Dr. Keith E. Lewis
June 26, 2008

It is not very confusing or as confusing as many people expect it to be. However, look at a package of food.  On the back of the package of the container, whether it will be a can, glass, jar, plastic bag, or box, you will see a small rectangular box.

The title of that box is usually called Nutrition Facts contained within the label are several important pieces of information. The first very important item to view is the serving size. Whether it is one cup or one ounce, it is important to make note of that especially as you consume the food product, it is also important to look at the number of servings per container. Oftentimes, this can be very deceiving so it is extremely important to pay particular attention to the serving size and the number of servings per container.  It is also very important that you make sure you are comparing the same serving size when making decisions about ingesting the food product.

Next information concerns the amount of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate, and protein and maybe some other miscellaneous vitamins per serving.  Again, important to note, it is per serving.  Calories are important to view and you should always try to choose lower calorie products if possible.  Also, typically listed are calories from fat.  Next listed is total fat.


    1) Saturated fats.
    2) Trans fats.

Although the foods do not have to be especially low in fat, it is extremely important to make sure that the saturated fat content and the trans fat content and oftentimes even the hydrogenated fat content is listed on the label, and all these three types of fat are low.

    •  Saturated fats, trans fat, as well as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats are very damaging to blood vessels and stimulate inflammatory process that not only affect the blood vessels but also the organ systems they innervate.

    •  Cholesterol is listed. Sodium levels are listed. Sodium is important to take note if you are dealing with kidney disease or have particular problems concerning high blood pressure.

   •  Next listed is total carbohydrate. Total carbohydrate is usually broken down into dietary fiber, sugars, and on many labels sugar alcohols. This is an extremely important number to evaluate and again it is extremely important to evaluate based on serving size and containers per serving.

    •  Next listed is protein: It is important to eat foods that are high in protein. Protein is important for digestion because it does slow down the digestive process which has a lessening effect on elevating blood glucose levels.

    •    Next listed would be a series of vitamins and minerals and the percent of daily value. There may also be listed on this label food additives next and of course the fewer colorings, preservatives, artificial food enhancers in the product, the more healthy the product would be for you, so it is important to understand what this label says.  

Again, at first when you start reviewing food labels, it may seem somewhat intimidating or confusing but after a very short period of time of reviewing different labels, it actually becomes quite simple and depending upon the type of health management, weight management-type program you are involved in, understanding how to read labels makes this chore of good health much easier for you to obtain.  

If you have further questions, please contact your healthcare professional.