Reading Nutrition Labels : Are They Accurate?

Do you ever read the ingredients list and nutrition facts printed on the food items? Or you just read the amount of calories present? Or just calories and sugar? Or just calories, sugar and fat? Whatever be your reason, this post on how to read a nutrition label will help you easily and effectively navigate and understand the labels.

If you’re the one who reads everything, then good job. You’re certainly trying to stay well informed about what you’re consuming. But despite of the good intentions, those grams can sometimes become hard to imagine and we end up picking up not so healthy options. As can be seen in the much loved Nutella photo below, mere reading of the nutrition label will not prepare you for a sight like this.

nutella deceptive nutrition labels
You might have never imagined that sweet, delicious and innocent Nutella like this.

The market is flooded with food and beverages intended to distract us from the harmful junk present in them. They cleverly highlight terms like ‘no added sugar’, ‘zero trans fat’, ‘diet food’, ‘low-fat’, etc. thinking may be the buyer won’t read much behind them.


how to read nutrition labels
Nutrition labels worksheet
  1. Serving size– It is the first thing to check as this is what the entire nutritional information is based on. It could be mentioned in tablespoons, teaspoons, cups or grams. If you consume more than the serving size mentioned in one go, then you just need to multiply the nutritional value accordingly.

As an example, check out the nutrition label of Sundrop Peanut Butter below.

reading nutrition label

You need to be careful with the serving size while reading the label above. The serving size is mentioned as 30g or 2 tablespoons, which is almost 6 teaspoons. Normally, you eat just 2 teaspoons at a time, so you’ll get approx. one third of the calories and other nutrients listed above.

  1. Calories– if you normally eat a healthy diet, then you must be probably regulating your daily calorie intake. Noting how much calories come from a single food item is thus important. Unless you’re following a high fat diet, try to limit calories from fat to around 20-30% of daily calorie intake (1g fat = 9 calories, 1g protein = 4 calories, 1g carbs = 4 calories).
  2. Macronutrients– consists of fats, protein and carbohydrates. Calculate their weight according to the serving portion and compare them with your daily needs. Source of carbs should be as little as possible from sugar.
fruit juice vs soda nutrition
Surprisingly packaged fruit juices have as much sugar in them as soft drinks and are equally harmful. Unless it is completely unfiltered with all the fiber present and no sweetener added, it’s better to have raw fruits only. Squeeze them out at your home if you must.
  1. % daily value– most of these are calculated based on the 2000 calorie diet, as is mentioned in the footnotes. The footnotes provides recommended daily intake for important nutrients and does not change from product to product. Ideally, %DV should fall between 5-15% for each listing for optimum nutrition in one serving. You can make an informed choice by choosing items with higher %DV of the nutrient that you want.
  2. Micronutrients– consists of iron, calcium, vitamins, minerals, etc. that are needed in less quantity by the body. Their concentration is always mentioned in %DV, if they are present at all in the food item. It’s always better to have them as they are vital nutrients in food. Most of the junk food miss out here.
  3. Keep an eye out for trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium. They can lead to heart diseases, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, etc. so their consumption should be as little as possible.
    1. The WHO has ordered that all food items should stop using trans fat completely by 2023.
    2. The daily recommended limit for sodium is around 2300 mg, but it is advised to keep it lowered to 1500 mg for avoiding other health concerns.
    3. Cholesterol, if a part of the dietary items such as eggs, ghee, fish oil, nuts, etc. has nothing to worry about as that forms an important part of heart and brain functions. What you need to avoid is the cholesterol ingested through saturated oils often used in cooking and other external items like potato chips, cookies, etc.
  4. Ingredients are listed in decreasing order of their weight inside the item. If you are concerned about sugar, then make sure there’s no added sugar written in many forms like corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.

Many health conscious people also prefer to stay away from alcohol (Learn more about reading wine labels). This is because, other than empty calories (and a lot of it), they offer no other macro/micronutrients at all. This is almost a meal worth of calories without any nutrition, not to forget a possible hangover (Read about the reason and cure for hangovers).

nutrition label worksheet
How to read nutrition label

So next time you go out for grocery shopping, do remember to read the nutrition labels and keep the above tips in mind. Let’s make informed food choices and develop healthy eating habits!


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