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How to Read A Food Label

Filed Under: Ask The ND,Nutrition at 12:17 pm | By: Dr. Jeremy Wolf, ND & Lead Wellness Advisor
Magnifier highlighting Nutrition Facts of Foods

You walk through the supermarket one aisle at a time. These days more and more aisles are popping up. I don’t know if it is just me, but grocery stores are getting bigger and bigger. These bigger stores mean more products on the shelves and even more options to chose from before checking out. Understanding how to shop at a grocery store and what is really contained in the foods we eat is very important. Often times it is best to stop and read the label before adding a product to your cart. Customers look at the labels for different reasons. Whether it is an allergen, avoidance to a certain ingredient because of taste or just to simply see what is inside the product they are about to eat. But do you know how to look at a label and truly understand what it means?


Benefits To Consider For Reading The Label

  • Improve your eating habits- Find foods higher in vitamins, fiber and protein. Cut back on fats, sugars, and cholesterol
  • Properly avoid allergens and sensitivities
  • Know what’s exactly in the food
  • Find products that are organic, non-GMO verified
  • Compare similar products for quality of ingredients
  • Learn about standard serving sizes so you don’t over eat
  • Track calories and control your portions


How To Read The Nutrition Label

  1. Start with the serving size. This well help you to gauge the amount of calories you are eating as well as the total nutrients you will receive from your food. Some packages are deceiving. For instance a small box which may look like a single serving may actually be one and half or even two servings.
  2. Next look at the calories. Calories are essentially the amount of energy you get from a serving of food. Remember that the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat. This section is important if you are trying to gain or lose weight or just manage your weight in general.
  3. After the servings and calories you are going to want to look at nutrient values of the food. You should try limit eating too much saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sugar and sodium. You want to get more of the vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.


How To Read The Ingredients Section

  • When it comes to reading a nutrition label. The nutrition facts are not all that matters. It is just as important to read the actual ingredients in the ingredients section of the label. Why?“Sugar” on nutrition label can mean dairy, fruit or refined sugar. For example a product may have 7g of sugar listed on the nutrient label. But where is the sugar coming from? Is it from strawberries a fruit that contains natural sugar or is it from some alternative sweetener like cane syrup?
  • Ingredients listed on the label are listed in order of predominance by weight and they are in a descending order. Those in the largest quantity are listed first.
    • If you are buying your children “fruit” by the foot, which claims on the front of the box to be made with real berries and a good source of Vitamin C- read the label and see the first ingredient is fruit from concentrate, then sugar, corn syrup partially hydrogenated oils and contains 2% less of Vitamin C listed last. You probably won’t want to put that item into your cart.


Ideal Potency Considerations

  • DAILY VALUES–the percent DV is based on the DV for a nutrient in a 2000-calorie diet.
    • Nutrients listed as % DV on label: Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Carbohydrates, Sodium, Total Carbohydrates, Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium.
    • Nutrients with NO % DV on label: Protein, Sugar, and Trans Fat.
  • All nutrients must be declared as percentages of the Daily Values–that is to stop mistaken interpretations of foods:
    • For instance sodium listed at 140 mg could be considered high, but when the DV is seen to be 6% of the DV of 2400 mg, the true amount of sodium in the food is better understood.


Other Helpful Info

  • For those trying to avoid items like dairy, soy and wheat it can be hard. Especially because of all the hidden names for these products.
    • Alternative names for Dairy: milk, skim milk, cream evaporated milk, condensed milk, dried milk, butter, powdered milk, whey, lactose, caseinate, lactalbumin, cheese, curds, milk solids, yogurt, buttermilk, casein, lactate, sour cream, calcium caseinate.
    • Alternative names for gluten–wheat, barley or rye, breading, bread stuffing, brewer’s yeast, bulgur, durum, farro, graham flour, hydrolyzed wheat protein, kamut, malt, malt extract, malt syrup, malt flavoring, malt vinegar, malted milk, matzo, modified wheat starch, seitan (used in many vegetarian dishes), semolina, spelt, triticale, einkorn, emmer, farina, fu.
    • Alternative names for soy: soy protein, soy flour, soybean, soy lecithin, edamame (soybeans in pods), hydrolyzed soy protein, kinnokoflour,kyodofu (freeze dried tofu), miso, supro, tamari, tempeh, teriyaki sauce, tofu, yakidofu, yuba (bean curd)

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