Your Guide to Decoding Nutrition Facts: How to Read a Nutrition Label


You know sugar is in these donuts, but what other foods is it hiding in? Reading the nutrition label can help find those sneaky sugars! Credit: J Dueck

How to Read a Nutrition Label: Pitfalls to Avoid

Nutrition labels can be confusing. Mary Hartley warns to look out for these common pitfalls when reading nutrition labels.
1. Not accounting for the serving size. “Nutrition information is based on the amount of food listed. You must adjust the nutrition information when you eat more or less than that amount. For instance, if a package contains six cookies, but the serving size is two cookies, then the package contains three servings. If you eat all six cookies, multiply the nutrition information times three.”
2. Not differentiating for servings that are measured before the product is prepared. “This may apply to pasta, cooked cereals like oatmeal, canned soup and other foods.”
3. Not knowing the difference between natural and added sugars. “Sugar is listed on the food label under carbohydrates. Yet, the label does not tell whether the sugar is a natural part of a food, as in fruit and milk, or is added as in the case of pre-sweetened breakfast cereals, soft drinks, cookies, candy bars and so forth. Identify ‘added sugar’ by reading the ingredient list for words that mean ‘added sugar,’ such as high fructose corn syrup and sucrose.”
4. Being fooled by zero trans fat. “The daily recommendation for trans fat is to have none, but when a product has less than 0.5 gram of trans-fat per serving, the amount may be listed as zero. If you’re eating multiple servings of the food, unwanted trans-fats can add-up…Read the ingredient list for the word ‘hydrogenated’ to identify trans fats.”
When someone else makes your food, they have full control over what goes into it, but you have the power to decide if you want to eat it or not. Make food choices first based on nutrition, then on taste. Learning to properly read a nutrition label will help you choose foods high in the healthy things your body needs and low in the more harmful aspects you should keep in moderation.
What do you find most confusing about reading nutrition facts labels? —Kelly

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