Key Points when Reading Nutrition Labels

Dec 9, 2020 | Tara Schmidt, RDN, LD | @taraschmidt | Comments (3)

Woman comparing two canned item nutrition labels

Written by Brosnan Rhodes, Mayo Clinic Dietetic Intern

One of the earliest daunting steps towards better health literacy is being able to read a food label. With so many numbers and percentages listed, and no frame of reference, it can be very difficult to know if you’re making the right choices. Sometimes we just want to pick the thing with the lowest number and sometimes we don’t know what is bad and what is good. This mini guide should help you make better informed decisions without needing to try and process all the information the nutrition label has.

From Top to Bottom –

Serving Size
This can be confusing, as sometimes people assume that one package = one serving. The serving size should tell you how much of the item is considered one serving and also how many servings are included. Remember that all the numbers listed below are per serving, not necessarily per package. You sometimes need to do a little multiplication!

Calories
This number is per one serving. Normally, there should also be a calorie number from fat – so the amount of calories fat contributes per serving.

Fat
If you’re unsure of all the different types of fat, be mostly mindful of limiting “saturated” and avoiding “trans” fats. We want to aim for less than 5 grams of saturated fat per serving, and 0 grams of trans fat.

Sodium
We often encourage no more than 600 mg sodium per meal, or less than 200-300 mg sodium per serving.

Carbohydrate
Consider looking at Total Carbohydrate first and foremost. The rest of the breakdown can inform you of nutritional value, especially Added Sugars.

Protein
This number is about as straight-forward as it gets on a label.

Your dietitian or medical provider can give you information about what aspects to be mindful of and how to calculate your needs. They can help you figure out how many milligrams and grams of which nutrients you should be paying attention to.

Check out https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/multimedia/img-20209346 for a short form nutrition label and general information about what you’re reading.

When it comes to sodium my husband's cardialogist said to consentrate the % figure, which is kind of confusing to me, am I paying attention to caloris to %. can someone clarify?

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@nsainato

When it comes to sodium my husband's cardialogist said to consentrate the % figure, which is kind of confusing to me, am I paying attention to caloris to %. can someone clarify?

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We recommend paying attention to the amount of a nutrient (such as how many mg of sodium) instead of percent, as the standards that these percents are based on are not appropriate for all patients. Percentages can indicate if something is "high" or "low" in sodium, but I would more often educate someone on a maximum number of mg to look for, as everyone's goal or limit is different. A common cardiac guideline is to limit sodium to no more than 200 mg per serving, or no more than 600 mg per meal. I hope this helps!

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Thank you, it helps.

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