Would you believe me if I told you that the simplest tool to help you understand nutrition is often right in front of you? One way to get back to basics of understanding what’s in your food is with the help of a nutrition label. It’s important to know how to read a nutrition label, which shows up on the back of any packaged food (produce, protein, snacks, etc.), because it is full of helpful information.

The idea that you can be an advocate for your health by understanding how food impacts it is an incredibly powerful one. As a consumer, it often starts with reviewing a nutrition label, something that I’ve found is underused with my clients and in my work with nutrition programs for firefighters, to the point where I even wrote an article about it with Firehouse Magazine, titled Understanding Nutrition Labels. Instead of making nutrition complicated, let’s simplify it and see what we can learn from a nutrition label below.

How to Read a Nutrition Label

Nutrition labels provide us with information as to how a food can fit within a balanced diet and lifestyle at a glance. Be a powerful consumer by understanding what’s in your food and how it impacts your health! It all starts with your nutrition label.​

Here’s What We Can Learn From a Nutrition Label

  • Calories (energy provided by the food consumed for one serving)
  • Serving size (defined amount of food listed; note that this is different than portion, which is the amount of food you actually eat)
  • Macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, and protein)
  • Micronutrients (specific vitamins and minerals)
  • Cholesterol (dietary cholesterol)
  • Sodium (sodium content)
  • Fiber (form of carbohydrate; associated with various health benefits, such as weight management, satiety, digestion, and heart health)
  • Sugar (total amount of sugar within a product in grams, as well as “added sugar” in grams; these numbers allow you to understand what products have naturally occurring sugars compared to other products that have sugar that’s been added in)
  • Ingredients present (list of ingredients, listed in order of volume from greatest to least)
  • Certifications (standards for certain dietary restrictions, agricultural practices, or work conditions of employees; example: “organic”)
  • Allergen statement (includes common food allergens contained within the product; transparent information for those with allergies or dietary restrictions)

General Rule of Thumb to Help You Simplify Nutrition and Eat a Balanced and Healthy Diet When Using Nutrition Labels

Check your ingredients!

  • If you can’t pronounce it, it’s probably a filler, preservative, or a sugar.
  • Fun fact: if it ends in “ose” or “ol”, or is followed by the word syrup or sugar, then it’s a form of added sugar.
  • Sugar: when in doubt, aim for < 9g added sugar per serving.
  • To calculate how many teaspoons of added sugar are in a product divide the number of grams of added sugar by 4.
  • Fun fact: whole foods usually don’t have labels.

Do you read nutrition labels? If so, what do you pay attention to when doing so? If not, maybe you might start… If learning how to read a nutrition label has you wanting to learn more about being a powerful consumer, check out Fast Food Reinvented, a resource that allows you to take control of your health, budget, and time all in one resource.