What Terms on Food Labels Really Mean

Checking Food Labels (Image Credit: US Department of Agriculture)

Checking Food Labels (Image Credit: US Department of Agriculture)

You’re trying to eat healthier, so you decide to attempt to read the labels for the foods you’re eating. There’s one problem: they’re almost written in a different language! So what are the important things to look for when you’re reading food labels? Below, in no particular order, are some items on food labels you should be examining when deciding what kinds of foods to buy or eat.

Serving Size and Calories

Serving sizes can be tricky! For instance, upon first glance, a pint of Haagen-Dazs strawberry ice cream appears to only have 250 calories. However, if you note the serving size, which is  only ½ cup, the actual total calories for a pint of this ice cream is 1,000 calories, given that there are four ½ cup servings in each pint. When eating any foods, including healthy ones, moderation is key. If you stick to the suggested serving size, this can help to make sure that your food portions are moderate. (source 1)

Fat Content

When looking at the label it is important to look at the fat content to gauge whether or not your food is filled with healthy or unhealthy fats. There are two kinds of fats that are considered “healthy” fats: polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat. Both of these fats are known to lower cholesterol. Saturated fat, however, has been found to increase blood cholesterol levels. This is a fat your body still needs to function, but it does not need a large amount of saturated fat. Another fat to be weary of is trans fat. Trans fat is actually a man made fat and, as such, is a fat our body does not need. Studies have proven this fat to be harmful to peoples’ health. Just remember: unsaturated fats are okay and saturated and trans fats are not healthy when eaten regularly. (source 2 & 3)

Sugar Content

When you’re trying to watch your weight or just trying to be healthier, it’s important to check the sugar content in any food you eat. There are a number of foods that are healthy for you, but are surprisingly high in sugar content. For example, one serving, or 8 ounces, of Odwalla orange juice contains 24 grams of sugar. Although this is natural sugar, sugar is sill sugar and it should be consumed in moderation. (source 4)

Food Label

Food Labels (Image Credit: Daniella Segura)


Although there are many people who follow a low carb diet, this does not mean you do not need carbohydrates to energize your body. However, once your body processes the carbs it needs to fuel your body, the excess carbs eventually turn into fat. This makes it important to gauge how many carbs you are eating by looking for this item on food labels. The number of carbs any one person should eat daily varies. However, if you eat the recommended 2,000 calories per day, it’s recommended that you eat 250 grams of carbs per day. This may seem like a lot, but it can add up when eating junk foods that contain high amounts of carbs. Again, everything should be taken in moderation. (source 5)


Typically at the bottom of food labels, you will find the amount of vitamins contained in a given food. Vitamins listed range from calcium to riboflavin. It’s always best to check the vitamin section on food labels to see whether the foods that claim to be healthy actually contain vitamins to help benefit your health. Although there are a number of different vitamins listed, some key vitamins to look for are: Vitamin C, which helps the immune system and Vitamin E, which works as an antioxidant in the body. (source 6)

The next time you go shopping, be sure to check to food labels to make sure you’re getting the most out of the food you eat.



1. “Calories in Haagen-Dazs Strawberry Ice Cream (Pint).” Foodfacts.com. Web. 22 June 2013.

2. “Overview of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, and Monounsaturated Fat.” NutriStrategy. Web. 21 June 2013.

3. “A History of Trans Fat.” American Heart Association. 05 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 June 2013.

4. “Calories in Odwalla Orange Juice.” Calorie Count. Web. 22 June 2013.

5. “How to Count Carbs in 10 Common Foods.” Health.com. Web. 22 June 2013.

6. Fox, Matthew, MD. “Benefits of Taking Vitamins C & E.” LiveStrong.com. 28 December 2010. Web. 22 June 2013.

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