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Understanding food labels for healthy eating

Read the nutrition label to keep your healthy eating on track.
Read the nutrition label to keep your healthy eating on track.
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

With more and more news coming out about the FDA proposal to update the food label requirements, it would be good for you to better understand what those labels are really telling you. Although there still are not any requirements for GMO labeling, there is still a great deal of information to help you stay on the healthy eating path.

Real Serving Sizes

One area you really need to pay attention to is the recommended serving size. All of the nutrient information you find on the label is based on what the manufacturer claims a serving size is. For instance, on a 20 oz bottle of Coke the serving size is 8 ounces, that's less than 1 can. In reality, for most people a 20 ounce bottle is a single serving.

The other thing you need to realize is that some manufacturers give there serving sizes in grams. Some will also let you know how many cups that is, but not all.

What's important here is that you are honest with yourself about how much your serving size is. That will help give you a better understanding of how each food item fits into your diet.

List of Ingredients

Although food manufacturers are not required to give out their recipes, they are required to list all of the ingredients. They also list those ingredients according to volume. That means the first item on the ingredient list is the item that has the greatest volume. The higher an item appears on the list, the more of it is in the food item your looking at.

A general rule of thumb is, if you want to eat healthy you should steer away from ingredients that you can't pronounce. Many of these items are added for color, artificial flavor, or as a preservative. They usually don't provide a whole lot in the way of nutrition.

List of Nutrients

This is where all of the major nutrients are listed, and how much you will get from the food you are considering. This list of nutrients is listed as an amount, followed by a percentage. This percentage is the percent of the FDA Recommended Daily Requirement. Somewhere on the label it will list how many calories the Daily Value is based on. For instance, Kashi Go Lean provides 40% of your daily requirement for dietary fiber, based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

This is important information because it lists the good and the bad as far as nutrients are concerned. While it lists the vitamins and minerals, it also lists things like trans-fats, so checking the label is a good habit to get into.

Food manufacturers give you a lot of information to help you keep your healthy diet on track. It's up to you to learn how to take advantage of what they provide.