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How to Read Food Labels

Medical Information From The Cleveland Clinic

Food labels are standardized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Most foods are required to have a nutrition label and ingredient list so you can learn more about what you are buying and make the best selections for a healthy lifestyle.

Similar food products have standard serving sizes, making it easier to compare foods. The amount of calories per serving, total fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, and protein are specified on each label. This information makes it easier for you to purchase foods that will fit into your meal plan and help control your blood glucose, cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight.

Food labels not only help you choose healthy foods, they can help you control your diabetes. Every food label has a section called Nutrition Facts. Here are the areas you should pay close attention to when selecting a product:

Serving size is based on the amount most often eaten by people in general. This may or may not be the serving size you normally eat.

Number of servings tells you how many servings are included in the package. Since the serving size listed on the package may or may not match the portion you actually consume, remember to calculate the grams of carbohydrate to match the portion of food you consume.

The number of calories and grams of nutrients are provided for the listed serving size. This is the part of the food label where you will find the amount of fat per serving. Calories measure the amount of energy supplied by foods. Calories from fat show the number of fat calories that the food supplies.

Daily values are set by the government and are based on current nutrition recommendations. The “% Daily Value” shows how a food fits into a 2,000 calorie reference diet. Some labels list daily values for both 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diets. Your percentage of the daily value may be higher or lower, depending on your calorie needs.

For fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, choose foods with a low percentage of the daily value. For total carbohydrates, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, try to reach your goal for each nutrient.

Calories per gram show the number of calories in a gram of fat, carbohydrate, and protein.

Ingredients on the label are listed from largest to smallest amount (by weight.) This means a food contains the largest amount of the first ingredient and the smallest amount of the last ingredient.