Nutrition Labels are Confusing

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the number of calories, saturated fat and other nutrition information on a food label. However, understanding what to look for on a nutrition fact label an help you make better choices about your diet. If you have no idea what each thing means, you aren’t alone. A lot of people have no idea what kind of information you can find there or how to apply it to a healthier lifestyle and actively avoid them.

Lot of information

Reading a nutrition facts label is one of the best ways to learn about the foods you eat. The label contains information on calories, fat and carbohydrates in a serving. It also tells you how many servings are in the package, vitamins and minerals in the product, and an ingredient list.

A serving size can be helpful when comparing different types of food or drinks because it gives you an idea about how much of each item is contained within each package (dur). It can also be pretty depressing because once you figure out the size of an actual serving (looking at you, peanut butter) you might realize just how much you overeat or just how bad the product is for you.

Consider this. An ounce of potato chips is a serving size. One small, single size bag is a serving. How many of them do you see people eat regularly? Now, contrast that with an ounce of vegetables (the gold standard for micronutrients). An ounce of lettuce is enormous, and (if you eat the whole thing) will leave you much fuller than that tiny bag of chips.

Many of us don’t know what we’re looking for

Most of us don’t really know what to look for, though.

Among the first things you should look at are the serving size, total calories, protein content, and ingredients. Those will be enough for the vast majority of people.

The label bases all of the percentages off of a 2000 calorie or 2500 calorie a day intake goal, so all of the vitamins and minerals, protein, etc. are broken down according to those values. While they work for the vast majority of people, they aren’t for everyone. I wouldn’t neglect the percentages you see, but I also wouldn’t put them as the first thing to look at.

The very first thing to check is the serving size. Does the serving size feel proportional to the calories? One zebra cake is roughly 280 calories while 1 cup of rice is less than 200.

You should be very interested in the ingredient list. Is there a long list of chemicals in there, or is the ingredient list fairly short and contain things you can pronounce? The closer to natural it is, the fewer ingredients it will have and the better it will be for you.

Check the protein content. While fruits, vegetables, and most grains won’t have any/much protein, it’s important to eat enough protein throughout the day. I always tell people to shoot for 1g of protein per bodyweight pound unless there is a medical reason not to.

Out of all the information on the label, these are the most important things to check and understand on a nutrition fact label in my opinion.

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Reading the nutrition label is a good way to learn about the foods you eat

The information on the label can help you make healthy choices when selecting foods and beverages.

The Nutrition Facts panel lists calories, fat, saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol for most food products. It also provides information on sodium content (salt), and vitamins A & C, as well as other micronutrients and macronutrients. How much of each micro and macro nutrient you need ultimately depends on your lifestyle, goals, and overall health.

Some folks need to watch their cholesterol intake. Others need to watch their protein intake. The label can give you vital information to help you make informed decisions that are best for you.

When comparing two similar products, such as milk, in different sizes (one gallon versus half gallon), look at the number of servings per container. You might be surprised to find that two manufacturers take very similar products and list them with different serving sizes.

Further down the label you will find the ingredients list. Contents are listed from those with the highest amount present in the product down to lowest amount present. It can be eye opening when you see that corn syrup is so far up the list in a lot of products. A good rule of thumb is to have as many whole, natural ingredients at the beginning of the list and as few other ingredients as possible listed anywhere, but mainly towards the end.

The label will also tell you country of origin. This tells where ingredients were grown or produced so we can find out what part of world we’re buying from!

How much saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, etc. are in the product

Saturated fat is the bad kind of fat. It can raise your cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease. Look for foods with less than 1 gram per serving (and no more than 5 grams total).

If you have high cholesterol or are at risk for heart disease, limit foods that contain 300 milligrams or more cholesterol per serving. You should also eat fewer foods containing saturated fat and trans fats because they can raise your blood cholesterol levels as well.

Sodium is a mineral in salt that helps regulate fluid balance in the body. Too much sodium may cause high blood pressure, which increases stroke risk by 27 percent! The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day–or about 1 teaspoon per day–for most adults over age 50. There are some groups with different guidelines, so speak with your doctor if you are unsure.

There’s still a lot of room for improvement in food labeling

Understanding the Nutrition Facts label can be a helpful tool for making healthy food choices. However, there are still many things that need to be improved. For example, you still need to pick up the box/bag and spin it around to read the label. It’d be helpful to put it on the front, but I suppose that would ruin the aesthetic and branding.

Secondly, the most important areas of the label could be highlighted a bit better or placed separately so people could better understand what is important to look for.

Thirdly, manufacturers and the FDA could work together to put some additional information on the label about what you should make sure you get enough of and what you should reduce in your diet.

Lots of opportunities for a better label, but we need to use what we have available.


Understanding the nutrition facts label is an important tool for making healthier choices. It can help you understand what’s in your food and how much of it is good or bad for you. There are still many things that need to be improved about food labeling, such as having more information on the front of packages. That way, people don’t have to go picking up the box and spinning it around to find out if something contains nuts or soybeans.

Overall though, They are a good start. Knowing what these labels look like will help make shopping easier! They should also help you choose healthier options and live a better, healthier life.

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Brandon's Approach to Training

I'm not just any fitness coach. I'm the engine behind CONDITIONerd. My history is packed with sports from my school days, nearly a decade serving as a Marine, and over 17 years tackling every challenge the fitness world could throw at me.
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