Deciphering Nutrition Labels

Trying to decipher what all the words mean on a food label can be enough to drive any person insane. Some words have real nutritional meaning while others have absolutely none. Unhealthy foods are labeled with bright green labels giving an indication of health. Lean may sound like a good deal, until you see the amount of sodium or sugar stuffed into the food. As with so many things these days, it's buyer beware! But, in order to be forewarned, you need some background information.

Nutrition Facts Labels are required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on most packaged food and beverage panels. The ability to decipher the label is your key to using the nutrition information enabling you to make the    best food choices on your way to wellness. Your goal should be to minimize total fat, saturated fat, trans-fat, sodium, sugar and cholesterol. These ingredients are all linked with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.

Does “Natural” mean it’s healthy? No! The FDA is responsible for the regulation of all claims on food labels, and has determined that the term “natural” can be used for meat products to indicate no added color, artificial flavors, or artificial ingredients, however has no particular meaning in other foods. “Natural” is not intended to be organic, low in sodium or sugar, nor does necessarily indicate any nutritious qualities. Your challenge, as with many front package panels, is to look past the word “Natural” and scour the Nutrition Facts label instead.



Focus on the ingredients listed on the back. These are listed by weight from highest to lowest concentration. The biggest impact will come from the first 3 ingredients listed on your label. If salt, sugar, or refined flours are numbers 1, 2, and 3, you may want to make another choice! Look instead whole grains listed on top.

Know the FDA approved terms:
  1. Lean (meat, poultry, seafood): 10 g fat or less, 4 ½ g of saturated fat And less, and less than 95 mg cholesterol per 3 oz serving.
  2. Extra lean: Less than 5 g fat, 2 g of saturated fat, and 95 mg cholesterol.
  3. Light:1/3 fewer calories or ½ the fat of the regular food item.
  4. Healthy: Low fat, low saturated fat, less that 480mg sodium, less than 95mg cholesterol, and at least 10% of the DV (Daily Value) of vitamins A and C, iron, protein, calcium, and fiber.
  5. Good Source of Fiber: 2.4 – 4.9 g fiber
  6. Reduced or Less Sodium: At least 25% less sodium than the regular food item
  7. Very Low Sodium: 35 mg sodium or less
  8. Sodium free or no sodium: Less than 5 mg sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients.
  9. Low in Saturated Fat: 1 g of saturated fat or less, with no more than 15% of the calories from saturated fat.
  10. Free: food product contains the least possible amount of a specific nutrient
  11. Very Low and Low: food product has a little more of the specified nutrient than the food labeled “Free”
  12. Reduced or Less: the food has 25% less of a specific nutrient than the regular version of the food.
     As you do your next grocery shopping, allow plenty of time to read the labels. Briefly glance at the front, but focus carefully on the back label. Be sure the foods you choose make sense for you and your family's health. There's a strong correlation between the food you bring home, and what you eat. Remember, even if the Oreo's and chips are on sale and the brown rice and berries aren't, you certainly aren't getting the bargain you're counting on when it comes to your health! There's just too much truth in You Are What You Eat!