Don't be fooled by serving sizes, artificial colors and other food label tricks and terms. Senior Food Editor Elisa Bosley dishes on how to correctly read a nutrition label.
Food labels are confusing, but they don't have to be if you follow these four tips. You'll be making healthier food choices in no time.
- Start with serving size.
If a 16-ounce bottled juice says “Serving Size: 8 ounces,” that means the bottle is two servings, not one. Double the nutrition numbers to see what you’re really getting if you drink the whole thing.
- Read the ingredient list.
Items appear in order of quantity; for example, if “oats” is the first ingredient, that’s got the highest concentration in the food. This tells you something if sugar—or a disguised sugar, like corn syrup, dextrose, or sucrose—is the first (and third and fourth) ingredient.
- Look for recognizable, whole foods.
Lengthy lists with lots of scientific-sounding ingredients mean most of that “food” was created in a lab (think preservatives, fake colors, and other additives), not in nature. And be aware: Anything with “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list contains trans fats, even if the label number reads zero, thanks to a loophole that allows products with less than 0.5 grams trans fat per serving to go unlabeled.
- Keep an eye on key nutrients.
Packaged foods tend to be high in sodium; aim for less than 5 percent Daily Value (DV) per serving. A good fiber number is 4 grams or more per serving. Limit snacks to about 200 calories per serving; meals should run around 600–700 calories.