Thursday, August 16, 2012

What's In A Label?


The information is priceless.  While shopping at Costco the other day I saw just how sneaky food labels can be.

The first thing you have to look at before you check anything else is The Serving Size. (1 oz, 1/2 cup, etc). The nutrition information on the label is ALWAYS based on the serving size, not necessarily the entire package.

Here is a great example. I picked up this box of Mango Fruit cups thinking it would be a great snack to have in my pantry. I quickly looked at the label and saw 100 calories. PERFECT.

Thinking twice I looked more carefully at the label. Do you know what a serving size is for these fruit cups??? 1/2 cup!!  Who eats 1/2 a fruit cup????
There are really 200 calories in each cup. I put the Mango Fruit Cups back on the shelf.

Here are a few quick tips to help you navigate the label.

Tip: when looking at the %DV (Daily Value, a confusing piece of information) if a nutrient’s Daily Value is 5% or less that means it is LOW in that nutrient. For example if next to the fat grams it says 5% DV, that means it is a low fat product. You don't have to worry about memorizing what number of fat grams actually means low fat. 

If the %DV is 20% or more, it means that the nutrient it's next to is HIGH, so if you see 25% DV next to grams of fiber you know you have a high fiber food product (that is good) but if 25% DV is next to sodium (not so good).

Tip:  Everyone is interested in SUGAR. What does the gram amount of sugar mean to you? Do you know that a teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams? But do you also know that the sugar content on a nutrition fact panel (the label) includes NATURALLY occurring sugar that is found in milk and fruit (in addition to added sugar). So, if you have a fruit yogurt and you are seeing 21 g sugar ( about 5 tsp in a tiny yogurt container) understand that because the yogurt has naturally occurring sugar, from milk and fruit, not all of that 21 grams is added sugar.

So now what? Look at the list of ingredients. They are listed in order of predominance by weight. If sugar is listed in the first few ingredients then you know that product has a lot of added sugar.


  1. I agree while reading any food label you have to read it carefully because you want to know how much calories it is and what you are consuming in your body. Rosie M

  2. I didn't know how tricky the manufacturers made the nutrition labels. It's almost as bad as reading the parking signs in Manhattan.

  3. I feel there should be a bit more clarification on what each piece of information on a food label represents, like the percentage ratings. Before reading this, I had no idea that 5% or lower had meant the item was low in that particular nutrient, or that 20% and over meant it was high in that nutrient.

  4. Food labels are tricky, that's why we should all be more cautious in reading it and truly understand what we are consuming. Joselin C

    1. READ LABELS! As you can see, you may be very surprised to find out what you are really eating!

  5. Ever since taking this nutrition class, i am catious to what i am eating. I now start to check the food label to see which ingredient is dominant and how many calories are in a serving. Eventhough i would love to eliminate alot of the junk i eat it is very hard so i have to take it day by day in changing my diet. But, the learning and understanding of food labels is a big help because now i know exactly how many calories i am eating and i am actually starting to cut down and limit myself. Plus now i really see how tricky they are! Thanks Prof. Alison !
    Jameelah Ffrench. 109

    1. Jameelah, taking it day by day, small steps is the perfect way to go. You will be surprised at how you can overhaul your diet doing it that way. Good luck and let me know how it turns out!