OK, maybe you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about a food by what's on its label. Knowing how to read and understand food labels can help you make informed decisions about what you put in your mouth. You may be surprised at what you find on those food labels. back to top
What is a food label?
The Nutrition Facts panel printed on the outside of almost every packaged food is called a food label. The government recently announced that all meats will soon have a Nutrition Facts label too. And some grocery stores provide this information on a sign near items that don't have a box or can to label. You might find these signs in the produce aisle or the fish department. The Nutrition Facts provided on the food label are an accurate description of all the ingredients and nutrients
in that food. Anything that's in a food has to be printed on the label so you know what you are buying. That's the law in the United States. back to top
Why read food labels?
There are a lot of reasons you might want to read a food label. Girls who are vegetarians
want to be sure there isn't any chicken broth in the soup they buy. Some girls have cultural or religious reasons for checking food labels. For example, your family might not eat dairy products. Or maybe you eat only kosher foods. There are girls who have a medical condition like a peanut allergy
. These girls need to be on the lookout for nuts, which can be found in everything from cookies to soups and stews. And all girls can benefit from checking the fat
content, especially of processed foods like crackers and frozen dinners. Reading the label gives you the information you need to make healthy food choices
. back to top
What does a food label tell me?
There is a lot of information packed onto those food labels, but it is organized and written in a way that's clear and easy to understand. Here's what you'll find on all food labels:
How do I use this information?
- Ingredients. This section tells you everything that's in the food. The ingredients are listed by weight, with the heaviest items listed first. There may be two ingredients or 20. Those ingredients help you decide if the food is nutritious. For example, if you see water and corn syrup are the first two ingredients on that bottle of juice, it's probably only 10% fruit juice. Not the most nutritious beverage!
- Serving size. This is a standard amount that is used to calculate the Nutrition Facts on the label. Serving sizes are usually given in measurements like cups, teaspoons, and ounces. But the serving size on the label isn't always the same as the amount you actually eat. Check one of those snack-size bags of chips, and you'll probably find that there is more than one serving inside.
- Amount per serving. The Nutrition Facts on the label apply to the serving size, not to the portion or amount of food you actually eat. That's another reason it's important to check labels.
- Calories. The label tells you the number of calories per serving. If you eat two servings, multiply the number of calories per serving by two.
- Calories from fat. This tells you how many of the total calories in a serving come from fat.
- List of nutrients. The label includes a list of all the nutrients in the food, including fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins A and C, and minerals like calcium and iron. Next to each nutrient is the amount in grams or milligrams supplied by one serving.
- % Daily Values. This column tells you what percentage of your daily requirements are met by one serving of the food. For instance, if the % Daily Value of sodium in a serving of food is 25%, it means that the food supplies 25 percent of the total amount of sodium your body needs that day. Keep in mind that these percentages are based on either a 2,000-calorie per day diet or a 2,500-calorie per day diet. It's meant to help you estimate the right amounts for you based on the number of calories your body needs. back to top
When you go shopping, think of MyPyramid
and choose foods that are packed with nutrients you can use
, like fiber, vitamins
, and minerals. Foods with greater than 30% of the total calories from fat, saturated fat
should make up a much smaller part of your diet. Also, look for terms like "low-fat" or "sugar-free"
on labels. Companies can use these terms only if the food meets government rules about the wording. back to top