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Reading Food Labels

Por Claudia M. González, MS, RD, LD/N* -

Reading labels can help you make wise food choices. Most packaged foods in the grocery store list nutrition information on the package in a section called the Nutrition Facts.

  • The Nutrition Facts tell you the serving size and the amount of various nutrients such as the total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber per serving.
  • Nutrient content claims like "low fat" provide a reliable description of the product.
  • The list of ingredients shows the ingredients in descending order by weight.
  • Foods that are exempt from this label include foods in very small packages, foods prepared in the store, and foods made by small manufacturers.

The Nutrition Facts

Here's an example of a Nutrition Facts label. At the top, you'll see the serving size and the number of servings per container. The information on the label is for the serving size listed.

The serving size on the food label may not be the same as the serving size in your food plan or the serving you normally eat.
If you eat 2 times the serving listed on the label, you have to double all the numbers in the Nutrition Facts section.
For example, if you usually eat 2 cups of chili with beans, you'll need to double all of the numbers in this Nutrition Facts section.

Macaroni and cheese
Single Serving
( %DV)
Servings per Container
( %DV)
Serving Size 1 cup (228g) 2 cups (456g)
Calories 250 500
Calories from fat 110 220
Total Fat 12g 18% 24g 36%
Saturated Fat 3g 15% 6g 30%
Cholesterol 30mg 10% 60mg 20%
Sodium 470mg 20% 940mg 40%
Total Carbohydrates 31g 10% 62g 29%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0% 0g 0%
Sugars 5g 10g
Protein 5g 10g
Vitamin A 4% 8%
Vitamin C 2% 4%
Calcium 20% 40%
Iron 4% 8%

Some extra tips:

  • A free food is one with less than 20 calories and 5 grams of carbohydrates per serving. Examples include diet soft drinks, sugar-free gelatin dessert, sugar-free ice pops, sugarless gum, and sugar-free syrup.
  • Sugar-free does not mean carbohydrate-free. Compare the total carbohydrate content of a sugar-free food with that of the standard product. If there is a big difference in carbohydrate content between the 2 foods, you may want to buy the sugar-free food. If there is little difference in the total grams of carbohydrates between the 2 foods, choose the one you want based on price and taste.
  • Make sure to read the label carefully to make the best choice. 
  • “No sugar added” foods do not have any form of sugar added during processing or packaging, and do not contain high-sugar ingredients. Remember, they may still be high in carbohydrates. You have to check the label.
  • Fat-free foods can be higher in carbohydrates and contain almost the same calories as the foods they replace. One good example is fat-free cookies. Fat-free foods are not necessarily a better choice than the standard product. Read your labels carefully.


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