How to Read a Food Label

Serving Size

This is the most critical section of the food label to examine, because often, even with items that would seem to be a single serving (that little bag of potato chips for example) is more than one serving.

The serving size remains the standard for reporting each food’s nutrient content and is a set amount recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as one that is commonly consumed by most people for that product. Serving sizes now are more uniform and reflect the amounts people actually eat. They also must be expressed in both common household and metric measures.

Nutritional information on labels is given on a per serving basis—not per container. This is very different from a portion, which is the amount that people actually end up eating in one sitting. Knowing how much you are actually eating, relative to the serving size listed, will help you determine how many calories and how much of the listed nutrients you are getting.

Servings Per Container

This is the total of the number of single servings in an entire package of food. Information reflected in the Nutrition Facts Panel is for a single serving. If you eat more than one serving or prepare the whole package, multiply the Nutrition Facts Panel figures by the number of servings you consume. Referring to the Nutrition Facts Panel example, the serving size listed is 1 cup, which provides 25 calories. If you were to actually eat 2 cups, then you would get 50 calories.

The FDA allows common household measures: cup, tablespoon, teaspoon, piece, slice, fraction (such as “1/4 pizza”), and common household containers used to package food products (such as a jar or tray). Ounces may be used, but only if a common household unit is not applicable and an appropriate visual unit is given e.g. 1 oz (28g/about 1/2 pickle).

Grams (g) and milliliters (ml) are the metric units that are used in serving size statements.

Ingredients

Ingredients shown on a product label are listed in order of predominance by weight. The ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last. If sugar is listed first, for example, that means that there is more sugar in the product than other ingredients.

Total Carbohydrate. Carbohydrate is a nutrient considered to be the body’s main source of energy (calories); Total Carbohydrate on a food label includes fiber and sugars (both naturally occurring and added).

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