Decoding Health Labels

Decoding Health Labels

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You just logged in a tiring 10-hour day at work and after being stuck in traffic for an hour, picked up the screaming kids from daycare, you realized that you don’t have a clue what’s for dinner. Instead of pulling into the nearest fast food drive thru; you opt for making a quick stop at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

But since you’ve been trying to eat healthy – and most importantly – trying to get the rest of your family to eat healthy as well, you want to make sure you get the most nutritional bang for your dollar, all the while not wasting precious time around the dinner table by pulling your hair out reading the nutritional labels in the aisles.

Once in the food aisle, food cartons in hand, make sure you keep the following tips in mind, before you load up your grocery cart.

There are six main items on nutritional labels that you should pay close attention to:

  • Serving size
  • Total carbohydrate
  • Dietary fiber
  • Calories
  • Total fat
  • Saturated fat


Serving size: Make sure that you only eat one serving, as most foods contain several servings per package.

Total carbohydrates: The weight of simple and complex carbohydrates; 300 grams daily.

Dietary Fiber: 25 grams daily.

Calories: Calculations are be based on a 2000-calorie diet for adults and children four-years-old or older.

Total fat: 65 grams daily or 25 percent of total daily calories.

Saturated fat: 20 grams daily or about 10 percent of your calories.

Also, when shopping and reading labels, you’ll be bombarded with a variety of health food claims. What exactly does “fat free” mean? Here’s a breakdown of the most common, and FDA approved, nutrient content claims stamped across our food packaging these days.

“Low-calorie” – 40 calories or less per serving.

“Reduced-calorie” – at least 25 percent fewer calories per serving when compared with a similar food.

“Light,” “Lite” – one-third fewer calories or 50 percent less fat per serving; if more than half the calories are from fat, fat content must be reduced by 50 percent or more.

“Sugar-free” – less than 1/2 gram sugars per serving.

“Reduced sugar” – at least 25 percent less sugar per serving when compared with a similar food.

“Fat-free” – less than 1/2 gram fat per serving.

“100 percent fat free” – meets requirements for fat free.

“Low-fat” – 3 grams or less per serving.

“Reduced-fat” – at least 25 percent less fat when compared with a similar food.

“Cholesterol-free”- less than 2 milligrams cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

“Low-Cholesterol”- 20 milligrams or less cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving.

“Sodium-free,” “Salt-free” – less than 5 milligrams sodium per serving.

Nutritionists are the experts when it comes to decoding health labels. Places like Personal NEWtrition will even tailor what's on those labels to your individual nutrition needs.