How to Read Food Labels: 15 Explanatory Pointers How to Read Food Labels: 15 Explanatory Pointers Skip to main content

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How to Read Food Labels: 15 Explanatory Pointers

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Get aware of which 15 core nutrients are listed in a Food Label and how Nutrition Information Panel can be used for following a healthy diet plan. Click to learn what your food packages say to you.
How to read food labels: Explanatory pointers about nutritional fact value in nutrition information panel on packet food packaging
Food Labels: Do you notice what and how much you are eating through a food packet?
Nutrition Facts Label | Food Label | Nutrition Information Panel (Aggregate display)
Nutrition facts label: New format of food label's aggregate display, which will be applicable for all from 2018

We buy food packets, tear the rappers, eat, and throw the empty packet in a dustbin. Do we check out what’s written there in the packet other than the name or title of the product? In most of the cases, ‘no, we don’t’. Here, we do not skip just words; we skip an important piece of information about what that food contains. That imperative information is nutrition facts label which tells us about the constituents of that food and their nutritional value.

Nutrition facts or nutritional value refers to the information about quantity of the following components in food servings:

  • Energy in calories
  • Water
  • Macronutrients: Carbohydrates, protein and fats (Unsaturated, Saturated, Trans)
  • Micronutrients: Vitamins and minerals
  • Phytochemicals, etc

The Terminology of Nutrition Facts Label Listing in Food Lebel

For understanding the food label and marked nutrition facts (nutrition value or nutrition guide), one needs to understand the terminology that is used on any food package or food product.

Nutrition Facts Label or Nutritional Value or Food Label

Nutrition Facts Label is also known as Nutrition Label, Food Label, Nutrition Information Panel, and Nutrition Guide. It is the listing of existing nutrition components in any eatable, food item or food package.

These food labels are marked as nutrition guide on any food product or food package, which provide information about what nutrients and how many calories that particular food contains. In addition, this nutrition facts label also contains the information about how much energy can be provided to how many people through that product or package; while the details are mentioned considering 2,000 calorie plan (This plan recommends 2,000 calories per day to humans for living healthy).

Such information shows whether the food that you are going to eat is healthy and balanced or not. If one follows the nutrition-related information keeping an eye on calories and nutrients, one can avoid many diseases and disorders because of Malnutrition or Nutritional Imbalance.

Number of Servings

‘Number of servings’ in a food label refers to the number of people that can consume that particular amount of food.

For example:

  • 2 servings
  • 8 servings

Usually, the number of servings is mentioned at the top of the Nutrition facts label list.

Serving Size

Serving size on any food label refers to the amount that is consumed by a person in one time. This mention in any nutrition facts label list is the quantity of food or drink which is suitable to serve one person, considering nutrition and weight control.

Serving size is the standardized quantity of food or drink to give you an idea about its Nutrition as per number of people. Though the serving size listed in nutrition facts label is suggested as the standard measurement, yet it is not a fixed amount of what should you consume necessarily. The food amount that one should eat depends on a person’s hunger, weight, activity level, personal preferences, physical needs, and health goals.

For Example

Below are some examples for serving size formats in a Food Label:

  • One small/medium/ large sized fruit (such as banana, apple, orange, pears)
  • 3/4 cup of 100% fruits or vegetables juice
  • 1/2 cup of raw/ cooked/ frozen/ canned/ cut-up fruits
  • 1/2 cup of raw/ cooked/ frozen/ canned vegetables
  • 1/2 cup of cooked/canned legumes (such as peas, beans)
  • 1 cup of raw/cooked/leafy vegetables (such as spinach, lettuce)
  • 1/4 cup of dried fruits such as mangoes, apricots, raisins)

Measurement of Serving Size in Nutrition Information Panel

The sizes of most of the products are measured in common units. Take a look on some examples of serving sizes formats which are usually used in nutrition facts label list of the food product.


  • For sugar, the serving size is giving in tablespoon or cup
  • For cake, the serving size is given fractions, such as 1/8 cake, which means the whole unit of one cake has 8 portions. Either the 8 portions of this one cake can be served to 8 people or one person can eat the 8 portions in 8 different times, one-by-one.
  • For olives, the reference amount is seen. If the total amount is 40g and one olive’s weight is 10g, then the serving size might be listed as four olives on a nutrition facts label.

Portion Size

Portion or Portion Size is also a term that is used to refer the amount of food served to one person. This term is popular in restaurants, cafes or shops that sell ready-to-eat food items or packages. Though again, one can find the distinction as food manufacturers or chefs of any restaurant might take a self-selected portion size.

What portion size is adequate for a person also depends on:

  • Palatability of a food
  • Capacity of that food to reduce one’s hunger
  • Ability of generating fullness
  • Providing expected satiety

If we go on the basics, portion size cannot be seen as a part of the nutrition facts label as it depends on the various aspects (as mentioned right above).

Difference between Serving Size in Food Label and Portion Size

Where serving or serving size terms are mentioned in Nutrition Information Panel for the food amount recommended by consumer education materials for nutrition facts label, 'portion' or 'portion size' terms are referred to the food amount that you select for one time which might be more or less than the serving size. So on standard food packages, serving size is a more popular term for mentioning in a nutrition facts label.

For Example:

  • 1 teaspoon of sugar can be seen as the size of a dice
  • 1/2 cup of fruit can be seen as the size of a tennis ball
  • 1 cup of vegetable can be seen as the size of a basket ball
  • 1 ½ ounces of butter can be seen as the size of four stacked dice
  • 3 ounces of meat can be seen as the size of a deck of cards

The serving size on a food label is mentioned to compare your portion size and listed portion size on any nutrition facts label or nutrition information panel. A person can know how many calories he is taking.

A good trick to overcome portion distortion is:
Prefer to eat in a plate, not from a package. This will help to take an idea of how much you are eating. Eat in smaller dishes so that the less will look more. Try to eat in lunch plate.

Once you get an idea and sense of the difference between serving and portion size, you will be able to compare and make required modifications.


The energy value on any food label or nutrition information panel refers to the total amount of kilojoules (abbreviated as kj) from Carbohydrate, Protein, dietary fiber, alcohol and Fat that will release when the body will use the food.

The listed lower energy in a nutrition facts panel usually refers to a food that is low in sugar and fat. Such choices are comparatively better for most people.

Difference between Kilocalories (Kcal) and Kilojoules (KJ)

Some nutrition facts label confuses about energy amount as some show the energy in kilo-joule instead of Kilo-calorie. Check out below the measurements for convenience!

1 Kilocalorie = 4.184 Kilo-joule

Kilocalories = 1000 Calories
1 Kilo joule= 1000 Joule)

Total Calories

Total calories listed in nutrition facts label gives information about calories in a single serving. It helps the weight watchers who want to gain weight or planning for a weight loss.

Percent Daily Value (% DV)

Nutrition Facts Label | Food Label | Nutrition Information Panel (Standard Format)
Nutrition Facts Label: Standard format of food label or Nutrition Information Panel

What to Limit

Nutrition information panel not only lists the content of a food packet but also helps in following a healthy diet plan. Check out the fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium content in the food label list and if the nutrition information panel suggests the higher amount of these, then limit the food consumption as per your health state.

Read: Good Fat Vs Bad Fat Foods: What to Eat and What to Avoid?
  • Eat food that is low in trans fat, saturated fat, sodium and added sugar. Limiting these reduce the risk of chronic diseases. One should try to eat low percentage daily value of these nutrients. Nutrition facts label helps you in limiting the food that goes oddly to your diet plan.
  • Trans fat and saturated fats increase the risk of heart-related problems.
  • Added sugar makes it tough to fulfill the requirement of nutrients within your diet plan. The high amount of sodium can result in high blood pressure.
  • One should try to introduce low percentage daily value of these nutrients in diet.

What to Add More?

Take a glance at the food label for fiber and vitamins rich foods as they are usually a healthy option for all health states. Take help of nutrition information panel to ensure you eat them in a sufficient amount.

  • Intake a diet that is rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Check nutrition facts label to get an alarm about limiting nutrients that should be consumed lesser for good health.
  • Fiber, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and iron help in reducing the risk of health issues such as anemia and osteoporosis.
  • Introduce fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to meet the requirement of these good nutrients.
  • One should aim to include high percentage daily value of these nutrients in diet.

Additional Important Nutrients

Only knowing about calories from a nutrition information panel is not enough. You also need to have knowledge about additional nutrients mentioned in the list of nutrition facts label, which are:


If you need energy, check food label for carbs content. Carbohydrates are the prime source of energy. Carbs are found in three forms: sugar, fiber, and starch. Eat whole-grain, rice, cereals, and bread with fruits and vegetables to refuel your body.

Read: 3 Forms of Carbohydrate Rich Food: Know the Sources of Energy


Our food naturally contains sugar, that is, simple carbohydrates. Some food items such as fruit juice, milk, table sugar and corn syrup are amazing natural sources. It is recommended to avoid more than 10 percent of daily calories from added (additional) sugar.


Read: What is Protein? Top 6 Roles of Protein Nutrient in Daily Diet

Usually a percentage daily value of protein in Nutrition facts label is mentioned as per it is not worth considering or required to give attention. A person can eat moderate portions of protein-rich food sources, such as lean meat, eggs, low-fat milk, fish, cheese, yogurt, poultry, soy products, peas, beans, seeds, peanut butter, etc.

Read: How Much Protein I Need Per Day at 15 Different Ages, Conditions

This section in food label is worth focusing on those who are on weight loss or weight gain journey. People who are on a body-building mission, they also need to watch their protein intake amount.

Read: 15 Important Protein Functions You Need to Know Read: Is It Okay to Take Protein as Source Of Energy?

Calories from Fat

Calories from fat in a Nutrition information panel refer to the calories in a product, which you will get directly from fat after eating the food.

It is recommended to intake less than 10% of calories from saturated fats. Trans fats are considered as bad fats, so one should try to keep its amount as less as possible in the food.

Read: Essential Fatty Acids Need: Excess or Deficiency Effects

Nutrition Label List Content: 15 Core Nutrients

Usually the following 15 contents are mentioned in a nutrition facts list so that you can take an idea about the nutritional value of that food:

Calories, fat, trans fat, saturated fat, calories from fat, cholesterol, carbohydrate, sugars, dietary fiber, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium, iron and calcium.

Ingredient List

The nutrition facts label also includes an ingredient list if more than one ingredient is used in the recipe. The ingredients are arranged in descending order of their weights, which means the larger weight containing ingredient will be listed first, and the smaller in last. This list of the food label is helpful for those who are pure vegetarian or do not want to intake shellfish or pork. It is a useful piece of information for those too who are aiming to cut the added sugars.

Nutritional Claims or Nutritional Content Claims

A nutrition information panel not only includes information about total sugar, sodium, fatty acids and other nutrients, but also mentions the nutrition claims.

Nutritional content claims give information about nutrients and substances, such as good source of calcium, high in vitamin A, low in fat, good source of fiber, etc.

Health Claims

Health claims in a nutrition facts label are not just the statements about the content of any food, but it is more than just a piece of information. It informs about the relationship between health and food.

Health Claims can be divided into two as per their level of intensity.

Health Claims of General Level

These health claims give information about the effects of food on health, such as calcium for strong bones and healthy teeth. This level of health claims does not talk about serious health problems or diseases.

Health Claims of High Level

This type of a health claim refers to the relationship between food and serious disease, such as Phytosterols may decrease the level of blood cholesterol, high calcium diet may reduce osteoporosis risk in 65 years or above this age of people.

Cautions and Patient Warnings

Apart from nutritional claims, food labels show warnings, cautions or patient warnings too. The nutrition facts label indicates about cholesterol, artificial sweeteners, sugar levels and allergens.

Significance of Nutrition Facts Label

Food labels are significant for all, regardless you are health conscious or not. Whether you want to maintain your health or focus on weight management or suffering from disease or health disorder, nutrition information panel can help you going towards the optimum physic and health. Make a little understanding with the list on nutrition facts label and it will help you throughout your life. Practice reading the food package before you unwrap the food and consume it. Knowing what nutrients or ingredients you are going to eat will develop a sense of care for yourself and help you in living a healthy and smiling life.

Read: Ideal Healthy Diet Chart: 9 Breaks for Entire Day
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