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What Should I Look at on the Nutrition Facts Label? Which Parts of the Nutrition Facts Label are Important? How to Read a Nutrition Label

The nutrition facts label is pretty confusing. It is full of lines, numbers, and percentages. Is the information on the nutrition facts label useful? Which parts of the nutrition facts label are important? Read on to learn about how to read a nutrition facts label.

First, it is helpful to understand that the information on the nutrition facts label is legally mandated to be there. Certain nutrients are required to be listed, and certain information is required to be in bold text. The numbers under daily value are also required by law. Being on the label does not mean it is important or useful to you as an individual.

Also, a person's specific medical concerns may necessitate looking at parts of the nutrition facts label that may be less important to the general population. Speak to your physician or dietitian to find out what you should be looking at.

person reading nutrition facts label

Nutrition Facts Label: Serving Size

Let's start with serving size. The serving size should not be understood as a recommendation of an appropriate amount to eat. It is intended to reflect the amount people actually eat. In reality, people may eat more or less than that amount. The number is helpful because the nutrients listed below the serving size need to reflect a specified amount. Think of the serving size and nutrient contents as a ratio. If you eat more, there are more nutrients, and if you eat less, there are less nutrients in that ratio.

Nutrition Facts Label: Nutrients

For most people, there is no need to spend a lot of time reading all the nutrients on the nutrition facts label. I think that the nutrition facts label can be helpful as a quick reference for when nutrient content may impact your choice. For many people this is most relevant to three nutrients: protein, fiber, and added sugar.

  • Protein. Protein content is helpful because protein intake contributes to satiety. If a meal is inadequate in protein, you will tend to full hungrier sooner. If you are trying to choose a food that will keep you feeling full, this number is helpful.

  • Fiber. It is also useful to know fiber content in a food. Most Americans do not eat enough fiber, so people may want to choose a food that contains more fiber. You can compare fiber content of similar foods, such as different varieties of bread or crackers, and choose one that has more fiber.

  • Added sugar. Knowing how much added sugar is in a food may also impact food choices. Sometimes just comparing a few options can be eye opening to how much added sugar is in some foods. This is relevant to many foods, for example, breakfast cereals and granola bars.

What not to Look at on the Nutrition Facts Label

There is a lot of information on the nutrition facts label that is not important to most people, and you don't have to spend time looking at it.

  • Daily value percentages. For most people, the daily value percentages are irrelevant. These are based on a specified calorie level of intake that is not relevant to most of the population.

  • Total carbohydrate. This number is also not too important to know for most people. Unless someone has diabetes or is an endurance athlete, total carbohydrate usually does not need to play into food decision making.

  • Total fat. The grams of total fat in a food is not important for most people. In contrast, people with certain heart health concerns may look at the amounts of specific types of fats: saturated and unsaturated fat

How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

Reading a nutrition facts label can be simplified. Limit your focus to the information you need. Take a look at the serving size and the few nutrients you are interested in. Using that information you can compare foods and make a decision.

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