How To Read Food Labels & Actually Understand What They Mean


Before having to fend for myself in college, I'm pretty sure that I rarely, if ever, glanced at a food label. Most of us have a general sense of what we should be eating on a daily basis thanks to that clever food pyramid we were forced to color coordinated in elementary school, but there's more to consumption than categorizing and caloric intake. To my knowledge, I wasn't outwardly taught how to read food labels, but it's an important skill to have in order to accurately assess what we're putting into our bodies.

I went through a phase where I was obsessed with meeting my macro nutrients for the day. Regardless of what else was being put into my meal, as long as there was a significant amount of protein, I'd practically inhale that sucker. It turns out that, because I was too busy concentrating on protein, I wasn't focusing enough on other important aspects of a well-balanced diet. No matter your goals, however, nutrition and fueling your body has to come first, and that means doing the research and learning how to read and understand food labels.

Companies cram a lot of information on that tiny strip of paper, and it can be hard to separate key pieces of information. Here are a few things to pay attention to.

1. Serving Size

According to the FDA, food labels must base serving sizes "on amounts of food and beverages people are actually eating, not what they should be eating.”

This can be a bit confusing, but basically a serving size gives you an estimated amount of that specific food you should be eating.

2. Fat

In case you're not up on foodie lingo, two terms often thrown around are “good fat” and “bad fat.” "Bad fat" refers to trans and saturated fats, which raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.

Dr. Robert Graham, co-founder of FRESH Med NYC at Physio Logic told Elite Daily that while labels must still list total, saturated, and trans fat, they won't include the calories from fat. According to the FDA, "research shows the type of fat is more important than the amount."

In short, if the majority of fat content comes from healthy unsaturated fat, it's probably healthy enough to eat. Otherwise, steer clear or be careful to eat said food only in moderation.

3. Sugar

The American heart Association recommends women consume no more than six teaspoons of added sugar per day. The average American, however, consumes on-average 19.5 teaspoons.

Instead of specifying how much sugar is in our food times, the FDA has food label identifying added sugars to pinpoint natural from processed.

Colette Heimowitz, VP Nutrition Communication & Education at Atkins Nutritionals, Inc. told Elite Daily label readers should look out for foods that contain anywhere from 0-10 grams of sugar per serving max.

4. Fiber

A lot of people have trouble getting enough fiber into their diet, so this one is definitely important to take note of.

For reference, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are excellent sources of fiber and should be regularly implemented into your diet.

5. Number/Kind of Ingredients

Processed foods are a huge problem, especially in America where convince can often rule out health content.

Emma Olliff, CureJoy Nutritional Expert tells Elite Daily,

My golden rule when it comes to reading ingredient lists? If I can't pronounce it, I'm not eating it, and you probably shouldn't either.