How to Read Nutrition Labels

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How to read nutrition labels
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Nutrition labels are the primary source of information regarding the nutrient content of our food. There are a variety of reasons you may need to look at a nutrition label, such as determining calories or macronutrients, or perhaps looking for the micronutrient content of a food.. The following NutriWiki article will help you read and understand nutrition. 


Nutrition labels are an important part of any nutrition based goal, be it weight loss, health, or performance. Calories can be rounded to the nearest 5 or 10 increment, and grams can be rounded down to the nearest gram. Interestingly, some foods are exempt from having a nutrition label, which include: food served for immediate consumption, ready to eat food, medical foods, food shipped in bulk, and food with insignificant nutrition information. 


Nutrition labels are divided into clear sections: serving size (1), calories (2), macronutrients/major nutrients (3), and micronutrients (4)

The serving size is located at the top of the label. A serving size is a standardized portion of food, which is often, but not always the recommended serving. The servings are often conveyed in common household measurements, like cups or tablespoons, as well as in a metric measurement, like grams or milliliters. It is important to note that grams and milliliters are more accurate for tracking how much food you are actually eating than common household measurements. Grams are a weight, which is generally more accurate that a volume measure. The next measurement we see is the servings per container which is how many serving sizes are in the entire container. 

Below the serving size is the calorie information. This is one of the most important numbers on the nutrition label. 

The next section covers the macronutrients and some other important nutrients such as sodium and cholesterolNext up is calories from fat. Fat is one of three macronutrients (the others being protein and carbohydrates). Most people want to limit the amount of fat in their diet as it has the most calories per gram (nine calories per gram of fat). 

Immediately under the calories from fat is the daily value. The percent daily value is the recommended daily allowance based on a person who consumes 2,000 calories a day. Most people do not eat exactly 2,000 calories a day, nor is their daily requirement 2,000 calories per day. This numbers serves as a standardized value for reference use. The percent daily value is a reference point to see how much of certain macro and micronutrients are in the foods you are eating. 

The first three major nutrients: total fat, cholesterol, and sodium, are the main nutrients that we want to limit in our diets. Next, we see carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and sugars. Carbohydrates are the second of three macronutrients. Carbohydrates have four calories per gram. Fiber is indigestible parts of plants which passes unchanged through our digestive system.Sugars include sugars from carbohydrates and added sugars. Protein is the last word in this section. Protein is the last of three macronutrients. Protein has four calories per gram. 

Underneath protein, we see vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron with certain percentages next to them. The percentages are based on a 2000 calorie diet, so scale the percentages based on your caloric intake.The footnote goes into more detail about how much total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates and dietary fiber that is recommended for a 2,000 calorie diet and a 2,500 calorie diet. The footnote also discusses how many calories are in a gram of fat, carbohydrates and protein. 

Up next are the ingredients in order of prevalence. The ingredients at the beginning of the list are in higher quantities than the ingredients at the end of the list. Finally, There is allergen information. There are eight major food allergens that are listed in this section: milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. 


Dietitian’s Pocket Guide to Nutrition by Nancy H. Herbold and Sari Edelstein

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