Food labels: What to look for

March is National Nutrition Month. One important part of understanding nutrition is knowing how to properly read food labels. We talked to Le Bonheur Dietitian Katelyn Wolfe, RD, who shares some simple guidelines for understanding food labels.

Reading a food label can be quite a challenge, especially if you are not familiar with some of the terms. Throw in numbers and percentages, and it could seem like only a mathematician can decipher the label. Well, here’s your simple guide to figuring out the food label.

Almost all items require a Nutrition Facts label. Exceptions include fresh produce, fresh cuts of meat or seafood or locally prepared items (i.e., freshly prepared baked goods sold at a local vendor).

When reading a food label for healthier choices, the four key things to look for include:

  • Serving Size
  • Calories
  • Total Fat
  • Sugars

There is a lot more info on the label, but learning how to find these four items will help you to easily compare similar foods to determine which variety has the least amount of fats and sugars.

Pick items that are lower in fat and sugars because these will also be the items lower in calories.

Here are some other tips for reading a food label:

  • Keep in mind that the information listed on the food label is for ONE serving only. Note that the “servings per container” reflects how many portions are in the entire package or container.
  • Look for items that have 0 grams of trans fat.
  • Look for “whole grain” listed as the first ingredient for breads, cereals, pasta, tortillas and pita bread, as these provide more fiber, which helps in digestion and provides a feeling of fullness between meals. Try to find varieties that offer at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
  • For portion control, select snack-size packs of crackers, baked chips, pretzels, etc. to prevent over-eating, even if it is a healthy snack.
  • For special treats, look for items that are individually portioned such as small ice-cream cups or fudge bars instead of containers that offer multiple servings per container.