Confused by Labels?

Evaluating food labels is common behavior in the society we live in. As we put a greater emphasis on eating healthy, monitoring calorie consumption and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, evaluating food labels has become an important part of this process. By reading food labels, we are able to examine the calorie count and nutrition information before making a final decision about whether or not to eat the product. Often times, many individuals do not look at the entire label when making their choice. While it is important to focus on calories and vitamins, you can’t just focus on one part of the label because it won’t provide the full story. It is important to examine the amount of sugar, fat and carbohydrates in the product as well.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when evaluating your favorite foods:

Serving Size

The first step in evaluating a label is starting with the serving size amount. All the information on the label is based on the serving size, which can vary because no two serving sizes are the same (e.g., 1 cup, 8 oz). Sometimes a serving size will be way less than what you’re used to eating — like only half a cup of cereal. So always make sure to check this prior to snacking!
The label will also list how many servings are in the package. Even things that seem like they’d be a single serving, such as a bottle of juice or bag of chips, may contain more than one serving. If you eat or drink the entire thing, you’re getting more vitamins and minerals but you’re also getting way more calories, sugar, fat that you might not want.


A calorie measures how much energy a food provides to your body. Did you know that we consume more calories than needed without eating the correct nutrients to keep us healthy? The number on the food label shows how many calories are in one serving of that food. The number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat.

Mac and Cheese Label

Image Credit: U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Here is an example of a Mac and Cheese label. If you decided to eat the entire box without looking at the serving size, you would have eaten double the calories

without even realizing it. While the Mac and Cheese has protein, calcium and iron, it also contains sodium, carbohydrates and sugar, which may be detrimental to your diet. This is just one reason why it is important to have an understanding of food labels, so you can make food labels work for you.

Calorie Guide

With the large emphasis placed on calorie consumption, how do you evaluate how many calories are too many for one particular product? Listed below is a general calorie guide from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for your reference.

  1. 40 Calories is low
  2. 100 Calories is moderate
  3. 400 Calories is high

The Mac and Cheese has 250 calories per serving so it falls into the moderate-high calorie range. To take a deeper dive into calories, it is also important to look at the calories from fat. As a general rule of thumb, if you eat 2,000 calories a day, about 600 of these calories should come from fat. Meaning about 30% of all the calories consumed in a day should come from fat.

Vitamins and Nutrients

When evaluating food labels, remember that the most important part is the intake of vitamins and minerals. Eating foods that are plentiful with vitamins and minerals helps to keep our bodies healthy. During the label evaluation process, remember to select foods with a high vitamin and nutrient count per serving to get as much nutrition as possible.

How do you evaluate food labels? Check out “Will Clearer Food Labels, Make Healthier Choices Clear?” to get a better understanding of how the serving size can be deceiving, and how the serving size changes the calorie intake.

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