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Basics of Food Label Reading

7:35 AM, Oct 17, 2011   |    comments
Nutritional Label
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By Emily Hoffman, MS, RD, LD/N

Food labels and label claims are meant to give you insight into the product you are eating. However, if you don't know what they mean or where to start, they can seem like just a waste of ink. Check out the food label below for a "how-to guide":


Purple: Start here. Check out the size of a single serving and how many servings are in one package.

Green: Check the calories per serving. Compare that to how much you are going to eat, if the amount is double what the serving size is; you need to double the calories, nutrients and % DV listed on the label.  In this case if you have 2 slices it would be 320 calories, 20g fat, etc.

Turquoise:  Limit these nutrients. Limit total fat to less than 30% of your total calories. Keep trans fat as low as possible, aim for less saturated fat and cholesterol to decrease your risk of heart disease. Also limit sodium to help reduce your risk of high blood pressure.  

Orange: % daily value tells you the percent of each nutrient that is in a single serving in terms of daily recommended amounts for a 2000 calorie diet. When you are restricting a certain nutrient, look for less than 5% DV and if you want to increase certain nutrients look for 20% or more.

Yellow:  Aim for 100% of these nutrients.  Pay attention to fiber, vitamins A & C, calcium and iron because Americans generally do not get enough of these.


Many food products in the grocery store also sport other claims like "fat free", "lite or light", "reduced", "very low sodium", "high" or "lean."   These terms may not mean what you think they mean. Here is a little insight into the other nutrition claims you may see on a food label. 



Sugar free: less than 0.5 grams per serving

No sugar added: no sugars (sucrose, lactose, and fructose) added during processing or packing, including ingredients that contain sugars

Reduced sugar: at least 25% less sugar per serving than reference food


Calorie free: fewer than 5 calories per serving

Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving

Reduced or Fewer calories: at least 25% fewer calories per serving than reference food


Fat free: less than 0.5 grams per serving

Low fat: 3 grams or less per serving

Reduced or less fat: at least 25% less fat per serving than the regular food


Sodium free: less than 5 milligram (mg) per serving

Low sodium: 140 mg or less per serving

Very low sodium: 35 mg or less per serving

Reduced or less sodium: at least 25% less sodium than the regular food


High fiber: 5 grams or more per serving

Good source of fiber: 2.5 to 4.9 grams per serving

More or Added fiber: at least 2.5 grams more per serving than the regular food


Be savvy about your health! This is especially important when you are trying to restrict your calories and lose weight.  Use this information to help you at the grocery store or when you are eating out to make smart, informed decisions about the foods you choose. The foods you put into your body will directly affect your weight and also your overall health.

The preceding information was provided by Emily Hoffman, MS, RD, LD/N at Memorial Hospital.

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