The proper way to read a nutrition label

Kevin Farrell

// By


A poll released in February of this year found that 84% of Americans support rules requiring food manufacturers to label any and all products sold in grocery stores with nutrition labels. A further 64% want those rules to also extend to any dishes sold in restaurants. But get this: Only 13% of Americans say they actually bother reading those nutrition labels.


It isn’t pure nonchalance that accounts for this dichotomy. The reason many people don’t bother consulting with that black and white box on the back of the box or bag is simply because they don’t understand what it all means. Thankfully, after reading this walkthrough of standard nutrition labels, that won’t ever be an issue again.

Serving size

The very top of the label contains one of the most critical pieces of information of all. The serving size is a food’s Rosetta stone, the key to deciphering the rest of the label, and the place where many people go wrong in understanding what they are putting into their bodies. The serving size for a box of cereal might be as little as half a cup. This might seem obvious, but if you’re instead pouring a heaping bowl of the contents within, you’re no longer consuming the caloric information listed below.

Confusingly, even foods that appear to be single servings are upon careful inspection, often two or even three servings. Chief among the tricky offenders here are bottled juices, sodas and other beverages, whose 16oz bottles often contain a plurality of servings. To understand what you are eating or drinking, you must be attentive to the proper serving size.

Servings per container

This one is fairly straightforward. If a serving is half a bar or half a bottle, then there are two servings per container. Flats of cookies, boxes of crackers, or even pre-bagged vegetables like baby carrots will likewise contain many more than one serving.

Amount per serving

A quick reminder as we dive into the rest of the information printed on the label: unless the label specifically says the entire contents is a single serving, the nutrition information posted is strictly for the measured amount listed as the serving size. Got it? Got it.


If you’ve only ever paid attention to one part of a nutrition label, this is the likely row. A calorie is the measurement of energy needed to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1°C. Food calories are actually 1,000 calories, or kilocalories. If that sounds like a load of bologna, think of it this way instead: calories are the measurement of energy it will take your body to digest, process and “burn off” through physical activity once the food is consumed. Any calories that you don’t dispose of through sufficient exercise of your body end up staying on you, converted instead into body mass like fat or muscle.

Calories from fat

To the immediate right of the calorie content is a second caloric figure that is just as important. Calories from fat are your glimpse into whether or not a food leans more heavily toward being healthy or junk food. The higher the calories from fat, the less useful this food is for your body’s functioning, and the harder it will be to burn off the useless fats you are consuming.

% Daily value

The remaining bits of information on the nutrition label will be presented to you through two different lenses. The total amount contained within each serving sits in a vertical column on the left of the label, and just how much of your total suggested daily consumption of that category will be listed in percentage form on the right. For example, if a cookie lists a daily percentage of sugar in the high 70s, it might be best to think twice about blowing the rest of your suggested daily sugar consumption on a single treat.

Total fat, Saturated fat & Trans fat

Exactly what they sound like: the total amount of fat in a single serving, measured in grams. Saturated fats are broken down into a subcategory of their own, as these fats are notoriously more difficult for our bodies to burn off, requiring more physical activity to fully process.

Trans fats are the human-engineered food compounds that rose to prominence in so-called non-fat foods because our bodies are chemically unable to digest them. The scientific opinion of these fats has soured in the years since they flooded grocery stores, with nutritionists now arguing that these fats are especially bad for our bodies.


View this post on Instagram

⠀⠀���� �� How to Read Nutrition Labels �� ⠀⠀ ✨ I am a firm believer that EVERYONE should know how to read a nutrition label in support of their health and fitness goals. ⠀⠀ And one of the best ways to learn how to read a nutrition label is to read a nutrition label! �� But how?! ⠀⠀ �� It’s quite simple for the most part, but let’s go over a few key points: ⠀⠀ 1️⃣ Keep in mind that on a nutrition label you’ll see “servings per container” or “number of servings” along with “serving size”. This is important to keep in mind so that you don’t end up eating the whole container that has 5 servings while only tracking one serving. ⠀⠀ 2️⃣ Calories. The calories shown are per serving, not per container – unless there is only one serving per container. Got it? ⠀⠀ 3️⃣ Macronutrients (protein, carbs and fats). They are listed in grams on the food label (per serving) and will add up to the number of calories listed above. You can see more on this in depth if you swipe to the second infographic! ⠀⠀ 4️⃣ Other things to consider are types of fats, fiber, sugar and vitamins/minerals. We ideally want to avoid trans fats, incorporate 25-35g of fiber per day, limit processed sugar and eat nutrient (vitamin and mineral) dense foods. So keeping these things in mind as we scan a nutrition label makes sense. ⠀⠀ �� Lastly, the reason you want to learn how to read a nutrition label is so you can LEARN about the foods you eat, and their composition of nutrients, as knowing this info will better serve you in reaching your goals. ⠀⠀ �� Questions about this? Comment below and ask me! I’ll reply. And if you liked this post and want more content on nutrition labels, please comment “��” below! ⠀⠀ Have a great day! ���� Max ⠀⠀ ––– #fatlosstips #fatlosshelp #fatlossjourney #fatlosssupport #fatlosscoach #fatloss #weightlosstips #weightlosshelp #weightlossjourney #weightlosssupport #weightlosscoach #weightloss #weightwatchers #caloriecounting #calories #countingcalories #iifym #nutrition #nutritionlabel #flexibledieting #flexiblediet #macros #caloriecontrol #caloriesincaloriesout #fitnesscoach #fatlossprogram #weightlossprogram #caloriecounter #nutritioncoach

A post shared by Max Weber (@maxweberfit) on

Another simple to absorb stat, cholesterol is listed because of its usually harmful impact on our bodies. While there are such things as “good cholesterols,” those are chiefly not what is listed here.


If there is one section of a food label poised to contain the most surprising bit of information, it’s the sodium content. In processed foods especially, the sodium content can be shockingly high. This is one spot where seeing the information broken down into a daily suggested percentage can be quite illuminating.

Total carbohydrates, Dietary fiber, Total sugars

Carbohydrates are the primary blocks of fuel our bodies burn off as energy. There are certainly exceptions to the rule, like in the Keto diet, which seeks to trigger our bodies into burning fat by depriving them of carbohydrates. But for the most part, this is the label telling you how much potential energy is contained within.

Not all carbs are created equally though. Fiber is singled out because of its beneficial qualities that are critical to proper digestion, while sugars also earn a line item for their generally negative impact on our bodies. Legislation requiring companies to also add a line item detailing the number of added sugars has waffled back and forth between presidential administrations, but will likely go into effect in the coming years.


After calories, protein is probably where you’ve trained your eye to dart off to next on a nutrition label. Protein is the building block from food that our bodies use to build and maintain muscle, and is generally considered to be a totally beneficial component of our foods.

Below the bar: Vitamins and minerals

A solid bar below the protein content separates the top level lines whose totals are federally required from the various vitamin and mineral contents that may or may not exist in a product. You could, in the case of a smoothie or green juice, see two dozen beneficial items like Vitamin C or potassium listed here, or in the case of a candy bar, see a big, fat zero. The information listed here is great to know if you are seeking out specific foods to account for, say, a Vitamin B deficiency, but for most people, this data is largely extraneous.  


Kevin Farrell

About Kevin Farrell

Read more about Kevin Farrell here.


incrementing counter