Let’s talk for a minute or two about how to read labels.  This is critical to your success as a healthy eater.

Let’s use this label for bread as an example.

Right here at the top is one place that manufacturers try to fool us into thinking their product is better for us than it is: serving size/servings per container.  On bread, it’s not too tricky — a slice is a serving (but that makes a sandwich two servings).  They’ve also put all of the information on here twice — once for one slice and once for two slices.

However, especially in “single serving” junk food, there will actually be two or more servings in the package.  This also goes for drinks.  So check the label for how many servings are in your package.  All of the nutrition information is given per serving, not per package.

Partially this is to fake you out on calories.  If it says 100 calories per serving, and that’s all you look at, you might not realize that you’ve actually eaten (or drunk) 250 calories, since there are 2.5 servings in the container.

But with trans fat being in the news, that is another place that companies are trying to trick you.  The front label can say “no trans fat” as long as there is less than half a gram per serving.  So if my package of six cookies has a gram of trans fat, all I need to do is say that there are three servings in the package and voila!  “No trans fat.”  (Look in the ingredients for hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated items — that’s where trans fat comes from.)

Beyond the serving size/servings per container, there is simply a list of stuff that’s in there.  So if you’re looking to reduce your sodium intake, for example, look for sodium on the label (150 mg in a slice of this type of bread).  Not everything that is salty tastes salty.  If you’re tracking how much sugar you consume, find sugar on there.  Sugar is not always separated from carbohydrates on labels.

Also, on sugars: anything with real fruit in it (i.e. juice, jelly) is going to have sugar, even if the manufacturer didn’t add sugar, because fruit has its own built-in sugar.

Finally, the percentages of RDA (recommended daily allowance) are based on a diet of 2,000 calories per day.  The percentage of your diet that it fills will be different, unless, of course, you’re on a 2,000-calorie/day diet.  My daily caloric intake is below that; my husband’s is above it.  The label might be our average 🙂

Questions about nutrition labels?

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