How to Read Nutrition Labels

Oct 31st, 2014

Comments: 1
Category: Nutrition

How to Read Nutrition Labels

Nutrition LabelCalories, Fat, Carbohydrates and Protein, oh my!

How To Read Nutrition Labels

One of the most important skills for maintaining or losing weight is how to read nutrition labels. Being aware of what you put into your body will not only help you keep track of the foods you eat, but will motivate you to make better choices. The good news is all the nutrition information you need is right on the box under “Nutrition Facts.”


Step 1. What is a Serving Size?

The first step is to look on the package for the serving size. Many people assume that small packages of cookies or crackers or medium-sized beverage containers are single servings. However, this is often not the case. All of the nutrition information that comes from the label is for one serving. If the package is double that, you will be consuming twice the number of calories! Sometimes, a serving—such as with cereal—is a half or ¾ cup, so numbers need to be adjusted if you have more as well. You need to take note of the serving size in order to calculate accurately what you are putting in your body. So, check carefully before moving on.


Step 2. Counting Calories & Fat

You are likely used to looking at calories in food and counting calories and fat so this is a good place to start. As with all the other nutrients, these are the amounts per serving. Check the calories, as well as the total fat per serving and the calories from fat, so you can do a quick calculation in your head of what percentage of total calories you are eating from fat. In the example, there are 10 calories from fat out of a total of 190 calories, for a quick estimate of 5%. The label also tells you how much of the fat is saturated fat or trans fat. Keep in mind: every 5 grams of fat is a teaspoon of fat (or a pat of butter). No matter your goals, target no more than 25 grams of fat per day.

Generally speaking, saturated fats (found in animal products like meats, cheese and ice cream as well as hydrogenated vegetable oils) tend to raise blood cholesterol levels. The process of hydrogenating oils, which makes them harder at room temperature, produces trans-fatty acids—which also raise blood cholesterol and should be avoided. Polyunsaturated fats can be “good” or “bad,” depending on whether they are primarily Omega-6 fats (which are pro-inflammatory) or Omega-3 fats (which are anti-inflammatory). The richest sources of Omega-3 fats in the American diet are fish, flaxseed and vegetables.


Step 3. Add up Total Carbohydrates.

Carbs are not the enemy. However, most people do consume too many and not the ones that will fill you up and sustain your energy. Check the nutrition facts for sugar and fiber.

Ingredients Label

Keep in mind that total carbohydrates includes natural sources, such as the natural sugars in milk or fruit, so it’s not always easy to tell from the line labeled “Sugars” where the sugar is coming from without looking at the ingredients list. If a cereal has little added sugar—but contains raisins—the sugar content may look high, but it’s likely from the natural fruit sugar. Notice in the example of a popular cereal featuring raisins, however, both sugar and brown sugar syrup are listed as additional ingredients. The sugar content without these added sugars should be less than 5 grams.

Every 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon. The cereal has 18 grams in one cup of cereal, that’s 4.5 teaspoons of sugar! Even more if you go over one serving. Measure what you pour into your bowl and you’d likely be surprised how much you actually eat.
Be on the lookout for added sugar listed as: sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, brown rice syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, maltodextrin, molasses, raw sugar, turbinado sugar and sucrose. Sometimes food manufacturers use a number of sweeteners in a product—each in small amounts—so the ingredients are “sprinkled” throughout the ingredients list, but taken together they can sometimes add up significantly.

Fiber is part of the total carbohydrate count as well. A food with 5 grams or more of fiber per serving is a good source of fiber.


Step 4. Protein.

As previously mentioned, protein is an oft-overlooked but important part of your nutritional plan to maintain or lose weight. A balanced daily intake includes a 1:2 ratio of protein to carbs. In this example, eggs would be a better choice for breakfast to start the day with protein.

If math is not your thing, using a nutrition calculator such as or phone app can make logging daily food entries a snap. But you still need to know what percentages are ideal before you read a nutrition label. If you aren’t even sure where to start, stop by New U today and we can help you determine the weight loss ratios for your body and identify the steps you can take to reach your goals toward a healthier you!


Bran Flakes with Raisins

Grams Calories % of total calories
Fat 1 x9 9 4.25%
Carbs 46 x4 184 86.25%
Protein 5 x4 20 9.5%



  1. New UServing Size Surprises - New U November 4, 2014 at 10:03 am

    […] first step is to learn serving size. Take a minute to read the label! You might be surprised to find out how many crackers really constitute a serving or that your […]

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