How to Read a Food Label and really Understand those Numbers

The information of the food label provides total amounts per serving of the different nutrients. These are shown in grams which are abbreviated as g; or in milligrams, shown as mg.


How do you read food labels?

Use total amounts to compare food labels of similar foods. Try to choose foods with less calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sugar and sodium.


Try to select foods with more fibre, which is listed lower on the food label under total carbohydrates.

Total carbohydrate on the food label includes all types of carbohydrate – sugar, complex carbohydrate. Because all types of carbohydrate can affect blood glucose, it’s important to use the total grams when choosing foods, rather than just the grams of sugar.


Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol, total fat tells you how much fat is in a food per serving. It includes fats that are good for you such as mono and polyunsaturated fats, and fats that are not so good, such as saturated and trans fats.

Mono and polyunsaturated fats can help to lower your blood cholesterol and protect your heart. Saturated and trans fat can raise your blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.

When it comes to fat, focus on choosing foods with the least saturated fat and no trans fat per serving. You will also want to limit the amount of cholesterol you eat. Too much of these “unhealthy fats” can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Sodium does not affect blood glucose levels, does not means you can eat as much as you want. With many foods, you can taste how salty they are, such as pickles or bacon. But watch out for hidden salt in many foods, like cheeses, salad dressings, lunch meat, canned soups and other packaged foods. Reading food labels can help you find these hidden sources and compare the sodium in different foods. Adults should aim for 2300 mg or less per day. If you have high blood pressure, it may be helpful to eat less.

List of Ingredients 

This can also be a helpful tool. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, meaning the first ingredient makes up the largest proportion of the food. Check the ingredient list to spot things you would like to avoid, such as hydrogenated oil or partially-hydrogenated oil, which are high in trans fats.

The Percent Daily Values (DV)

The DV for each nutrient is most of the time found in the right column on the food label. These tell you what percent of each nutrient the food provides if you were on a 2000 calorie per day diet. However, you should focus on the total amounts per serving for ease in comparing labels and counting carbohydrates.


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