Understanding Nutrition Labels
Nutrition labels can often be misleading, and if you don’t know how to accurately read one it can be difficult to know what exactly you are consuming. This breakdown will hopefully help you understand how to read and understand nutrition labels so that you know what foods are of good quality and which ones are not as well as how to compare similar food items. This nutrition label example is of a carton of eggs.
This is the place that labels are able to really trick people. Note the size of one serving, and judge whether you will likely consume more than what is listed as one serving. The rest of the nutrition label is based on that one serving size listed, so if you consume more you will need to multiply the rest of the ingredients accordingly. Here the serving size is 1 egg, but if you eat 3 you will need to multiply the other nutrition facts by 3.
This is how a lot of items labeled as “healthy” or “low calorie” can trick us into believing that we are making a good choice, but in reality they are hiding that there are multiple servings in a container or their ‘serving size’ on the label is very small. This is also a very common place for manufacturers to hide the fact that they are actually giving you 52.5 g of sugar in one bottled sports drink, because they label it as “2.5 servings per container” and “21 g of sugar per serving”.
The calorie information is also only an indication of the number of calories in one serving. If you eat more than one serving, you need to multiply to account for the true number of calories consumed. These calories are accounted for by the number of calories per gram of each nutrient in the product. For example, the number of calories per gram for the 3 macronutrients are : fat = 9 calories per gram, carbohydrate = 4 calories per gram (sugar counts as a carbohydrate, therefore it is sub listed under the total number of carbohydrates), protein = 4 calories per gram. That is how they account for the “number of calories from fat” off to the right of the total number of calories. Many Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients such as fiber and various vitamins and minerals.
As said above, the 3 macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Your body needs a good supply of these in order to function properly. Yes, you read that right. Your body needs carbohydrates and fats! We just want to make sure they are coming from good sources of carbs and fats. On this nutrition label we can see that of the 5 g of fat, 1.5 g comes from saturated fat, 1 g from polyunsaturated fat, and 2 g from monounsaturated fat. This food item has a moderate fat content. (To help determine whether something is high in content you can refer to the DV % which is explained below).
Micronutrients are things like vitamins and minerals. A well balanced diet should provide a variety of these in different amounts, but when comparing labels you can use this as a gauge for which item has the most nutritional value along with the macronutrients.
The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients determined by the FDA, but only for a 2,000 calorie daily diet. The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. The total percentage number on the nutrition label does not add up to 100%, but each percentage is based off of the percentage of the daily recommended amount within one serving of the food item.
*5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high
The %DV also makes it easy for you to make comparisons. You can compare one product or brand to a similar product. Just make sure the serving sizes are the same, or account for the difference in serving sizes when comparing.
For example, when comparing reduced fat 2% milk to nonfat milk, you can see that they both contain the same amount of calcium, but the 2% milk contains more fat and more calories than the nonfat milk. This higher amount of fat increases the amount of calories within the same serving size as nonfat milk (120 compared to 80 due to 45 calories from fat). This makes nonfat milk more nutrient dense, because you consume the same amount of nutrients with less calories and less fat.
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The information contained within this program is for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider for any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.