Ask the dietician: How to read food nutrition labels

By Nadine Day, RD on August 12, 2008

Q: I am so confused about labels on food. Should I look at the total grams of something or the percentage of daily value?

Standing reading each label before tossing it into your grocery cart can seem daunting. What are you really looking for? Educating yourself about how food manufacturers present the nutrition information will help you to make better food choices.

Serving size

All the nutrients listed on the label are based on the serving size amount. Do you eat the same serving size that is listed or do you eat double? If so, remember to double the values! Additionally, check serving sizes when comparing products for a true picture of each item’s nutrients.

Calories

This tells you how many calories are in one serving.

Percentage of daily value (% Daily Value)

Percentage of daily value is a really handy tool to help us determine if there is a lot or a little of a nutrient. It is based on a scale from 0 to 100 percent.
  • Choose a lower % daily value for fat, saturated fat, trans fat and sodium.
  • Choose a higher % daily value for fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron.

The actual grams (g) or milligrams (mg)

Each nutrient is important if you are concerned about a particular nutrient or if you are comparing products.

Women need 25 to 30g of fibre everyday. You pick up two cereals and one has 2g of fibre and the other has 10g of fibre for the same serving size. Choose the one with 10g to help you reach your daily goal faster.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Fall 2008.

By Nadine Day, RD| August 12, 2008

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