Man and woman shopping healthy food


Learn the basics of reading a nutrition facts label properly to have better control of your nutritional intake.

The road to fitness is paved with many challenges. Not only do you have to push yourself to be stronger and healthier when working out, but you also go through the Herculean task of sticking to a balanced diet. Indeed, for most health-conscious folk, following a nutrition program is tougher than hitting the gym every day or holding a forearm stand for 30 seconds. But, it’s something you have to do to make significant progress.

Watching what you eat is not as simple as stuffing your face with what’s generally known as healthy food. Being serious about what you put in your body goes beyond this since eating the right amount of macros and micros could spell the difference between a God of Thunder Thor and a fat Thor physique. If you want to be strict about it, the key is a bit of math – and this little box containing valuable info called the nutrition facts label.


Thor vs "Fat" Thor
Source: Wikye

What is the nutrition facts label?

Often overlooked, this printed graphic on food and beverage packages contains essential nutritional data to help consumers make healthier choices. It shows not only the calorie content (it’s not all about that, you know) but also organic compounds in food such as carbohydrates and protein, as well as vitamins and minerals per specific serving size.

The table is pretty straightforward and looks easy to understand, but there’s still a right way to read it. And if you’re one of those who need a little clarity on how to digest the information, here’s a breakdown on how to properly read a nutrition facts label.

Parts of the Label

To fully comprehend what’s on the label, let’s start with the fundamentals and identify its sections. This will help you get a good grasp of each bit of nutrition info you’re about to consume. Let’s use this one taken from frozen lasagna:

An example of a nutrition facts label

1. Serving Information 

This section shows the serving size per container and the sample used on the label. In this case, we have four (4) servings inside the pack with the sample size of one (1) cup used for the nutrition label. 

2. Calories 

Calories are defined as a unit of energy that, when oxidized, helps your body function. The number on the label is also what you’ll get per serving of this particular food. The need varies from each person, depending on a host of factors such as age, gender, and daily activity, but the average amount is 2,000 per day to stay healthy. 

3. Nutrients 

The key nutrients that impact your health are found here. This helps you address your dietary needs by knowing which foods have the nutrients you want to get more of while putting that bag of chips back to the shelf where it belongs. 

4. Percent Daily Value 

The row marked purple shows the percentage of the Daily Value (DV) of each nutrient per serving. These numbers represent the amount of a specific nutrient that you can consume per day. In our example, sodium is listed at 37%. This means one serving provides 37% of the sodium you need each day based on a 2,000-calorie diet for healthy adults.

Guidelines on How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label the Right Way

Now that you know the basics, we can move on to the heavy lifting. Here are a few tips to help you broaden your knowledge and start schooling those who ask, why is a nutrition facts label important? 

  • Mind the serving size 

Some people make the mistake of thinking that the calories indicated on the label are not enough to pose a threat in the delicate balance known as “The Diet,” only to realize that they’ve consumed three servings worth. Always check the serving size before digging in. 

  • Keep an eye on the sugars 

Going crazy on sugar can lead to obesity and other health issues, so it’s recommended to stick to 10 grams or less per day. However, it’s important to point out that there are different types of sugar, and the best way to find them on the label are those science-y words ending in -ose, and anything with “cane,” “nectar,” or “syrup.” 

  • The good vs. bad fat 

Fat isn’t pure evil, so the key is knowing which are the good ones. There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: the good called omega-3s, and the bad known as omega-6s. To keep it simple, follow this rule on fat: ignore the trans fat, control saturated fats, stick to omega-3 polyunsaturated fats, and increase monounsaturated fat intake. 

  • Know the lows and highs of your DV 

Don’t be intimidated by all the numbers and keep thinking about how to calculate a nutrition facts label. Remember: 5% or below is considered low, and 20% or more is high. 

  • Cholesterol is not an enemy 

Cholesterol has gotten a bad rap over the years, which was largely due to misinterpreted studies. Now, dietary cholesterol is found to have no adverse health effects. Instead, high cholesterol is linked to a bad diet involving trans fat, obesity, and an unhealthy lifestyle.

Always Read the Label

Labels are for food, not people

If you’re following a nutrition program or just trying to eat right, knowing how to read a nutrition facts label properly can be a valuable skill in your quest to achieve a healthy and fit body. You may train hard every day, but you won’t get the desired results if you don’t watch what you eat. Thank the muscle gods (or the FDA) for requiring brands to print a nutrition facts label on their products to help guide you in making healthier food choices.

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