Reading Nutrition Labels

By Madeline Wirth

Have you ever wondered how to make sense of nutrition labels? Understanding nutrition labels is easier than it seems. Anyone can do it! Here are a few things to look for when you read nutrition labels.


  1. Serving Size. Every nutrition label shows the serving size and the number of servings contained in the package. Be sure to check out the serving size of snack foods! Some snack bags may include up to 4 servings.
  2. Calories. Most people need around 2,000 calories on an average day. If you are active, you may need more than 2,000 calories depending on your stature and activity level. It is important to remember that calorie needs vary by individuals! Compare calories to the serving size you portion yourself. If a serving size of mixed nuts is 1/3 cup, and you eat 2/3 cup of mixed nuts, multiply the calorie amount by 2 to get the calories in your snack.
  3. Saturated Fat. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans eat abour 13 grams of saturated fat daily. Some of the biggest sources of saturated fat in our diets are cheese and pizza. Some snack foods like chips also have a noticeable amount of saturated fat. Keeping your saturated fat intake to healthy amounts is a good way to moderate your fat intake. In the long term, only moderate amounts of saturated fat is beneficial for cardiovascular health!
  4. Sodium. It is recommended that most people consume only 2,000 mg of sodium on a daily basis. Sodium is so likely to creep up on us because so many foods have quite a bit of sodium in their packaging. As college students, many common dorm foods like Ramen noodles, Kraft Mac and Cheese, and salty snacks have more than half of the daily recommended amount of sodium. Seasonings, sauces, and dressings also can have a lot of sodium. Eating a food that is high in sodium should be balanced with water to keep you hydrated and energized. Keep your sodium to about 2,000 mg to keep you from feeling bloated later!
  5. Total Carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are divided into sugar and fiber subcategories. Foods that are higher in fiber will fill you up faster and improve digestive health! Whole grain foods, fruits, and vegetables will be high in fiber! Foods that are advertised as high in fiber will have at least 5g of fiber per serving.
  6. Protein. Most people need about 1 g per kilogram of their body weight. Take this into account when looking at the grams of protein per serving!
  7. Ingredients are listed in quantitative order. For instance, if water and sugar are the first ingredients on a dressing bottle, then water is the number one ingredient, and sugar is the second most ingredient. Common food allergens will also be listed directly below the ingredient list.


Reading nutrition labels doesn’t have to be confusing. Once you understand the elements of the nutrition label, making healthy choices becomes easier and easier!


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