How to Read Food Labels

Food labels are a way of finding out what you are getting out of your food choices. With labels, you can compare the nutritional value of products, better manage a special diet or wish to increase or reduce your consumption of a particular nutrient.

But whatever your reason for doing so, learning how to read and understand food labels can help you make informed choices.

Here is what to look for when reading food labels:

Serving size

Food label nutrition tells you the serving size on the food container. Serving sizes are regulated to make them easier to understand and compare foods.

It is important to pay special attention to the serving size and then relate it to how much you eat. If you have the same serving size as indicated on the label, you will get the exact amount of nutrients and calories listed.

Calorie count

Calories tell you how much energy one serving of food yields. Food labels contain calories and the same core nutrients always listed in the same order.

Many people often eat more calories than needed, but the calorie section indicated on the label can help you understand this issue.

% Daily Value

% DV puts nutrients on a scale from 0%- 100%. This scale indicates the specific amount of a nutrient in one serving of that food. The values are also recommended levels of intake for important nutrients based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

You can use this value to determine the nutrient profile of various foods. Typically, a value of 5% or lower is a little while a value of 15% or more is a lot.

What nutrients to consume more or less of

When reading food labels, learn what nutrients you should limit in your diet. For example, fat (the unhealthy fats), trans-fat, sodium and cholesterol can increase the risk of certain chronic diseases, and therefore should be reduced or avoided.

On the other hand, look for dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, iron and calcium to include in the diet as many people do not get sufficient amounts of these nutrients. Consuming adequate amounts of these nutrients can boost health.

What are product PLUs?

PLU are codes given to fresh produce. The idea is not only to facilitate the checkout process in retail stores, but also to give the customer some information about the produce they buy.

The PLU code is a 4-5-digit number within a series of 3000- 4999 and is seen as a small sticker attached directly to the individual fruit or vegetable. These 4-digit codes are used for conventionally grown produce including herbs and a few other grocery store items. For example, 4011 identifies a conventionally grown banana.

The 5-digit codes are used to identify organic produce. In these cases, a prefix of 9 is placed right before the four-digit code. So, a banana with a code indicating 94011 would be an organically grown banana.

For more information on food labels click here.