Important Things To Look For When Reading Food Labels

Calories are not the only thing that you should be checking at the nutrition facts label when you buy food at the grocery store. Obviously, it is good to know how high in calories that food is in order to maintain your weight.

However, calories alone do not determine whether or not something on the store shelf is good for your health. They do not tell you how the food you eat will affect your blood sugar, nor do they indicate how long will it keep you full or even show how many nutrients are inside. In addition, calorie counts are not always guaranteed to be accurate. To avoid unwanted results from the packages you buy, Shape has shared the following things to look out for when reading nutrition labels besides calories:

Serving Size 

Serving size gives you an idea about how to evaluate the rest of the information indicated on the label. For example, a bag of granola contains about 200 calories per serving. This may seem good for breakfast but the serving size may make you think otherwise. If you are unable to eat 1/3 of a cup (or whatever stated serving size), then 200 can start to look like 300 or more. So knowing the serving size helps since it can keep you from overdoing it (as in the case of ice cream). Also, be sure to get more of healthy food (leafy greens can be multiple servings per cup).

Amount Of Servings 

Aside from serving size, you should also look at the number of servings on the package. More often, even foods that appear to serve just one serving can have multiple in them. Knowing that number can help you control your portions. In fact, one study published in the journal Eating Behaviors found that women who knew how many servings were in a pizza ate less when the food was unlabeled. This helps when you have no measuring tools on hand. Though you may have no idea about how many grams of pizza per slice, you can at least serve yourself a fourth if the box says it serves four then keep the rest away.


The "daily value" percentage for protein and other macronutrients is based on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet. According to Lisa Dorfman, sports nutritionist and author of "Legally Lean," it is better to look at the number of grams since your calorie intake may vary based on that percentage. She recommended active women in their 20s up to their 40s to get about 60 to 80 grams of protein daily, aiming for 5 to 15 at breakfast (more if you work out in the morning), 15 to 30 at lunch or dinner and 5 to 12 for snacks. Thinking about these numbers help when you check the nutritional value of, for instance, a container of yogurt.


You should also look at the product's fat content. "You don't want to be fat-phobic, because it is satiating and helps you absorb fat-soluble vitamins," Dorfman said. However, she added that you do not need more than 40 to 60 grams per day to be healthy and active. Though she advised keeping meals below 15 grams and aim for a max of 10 grams in a snack, total grams are not the only thing to watch out for when it comes to fat. It is also a good idea to look at the type of fat present. Do away with food containing any trans fat and remember that there is no need to consume more than 6 grams of less heart-healthy saturated fat daily.

Carbohydrates And Fiber 

Once you have checked the product's protein and fat levels, you should also look at its carbohydrate content. The "nutrition facts" label will give you the total grams of carbs as well as how much are from fiber and sugar. Dorfman said that she is less concerned about the total number of carbs than the fiber and sugar present alongside them. "Your body needs carbs to burn fat. Just make sure there's fiber in there," she said. Her goal is at least two (or three) grams of fiber for every 100 calories. One study found that at least one gram of fiber for every 10 grams of carbs also counts as a helpful ratio.

Hidden Sugars 

A nutrition facts label indicates the total amount of sugar in a product but not how much of it is added by food manufacturers. Through a little research, you can find out whether the food you eat has been spiked with extra sugar —

an ingredient linked to obesity, heart disease and diabetes. In general, look for glucose, fructose and other ingredients that end in "-ose." ( has a comprehensive list of words that mean added sugars.) Even added sugars from seemingly healthy sources such as honey and agave count and so intake of which should be limited.


Not all ingredients that are unpronounceable may be bad for you. But to be sure, look for shorter ingredient lists that usually contain words you can recognize. This helps you steer towards less processed food options. And remember that ingredients are ordered by how much is in the product —

whatever is listed first is the primary ingredient while those at the tail end do not carry much weight. If white flour or sugar is at the top of the list, stay away from those products. Instead, look for those with real, whole foods as the first few (if not the only) ingredients.

Nutrition Label The nutrition labels you're used to might be changing soon. Dan Domme CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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