Bewildered by the food labels on various packages? Want to read and instantly understand food labels like a pro? If yes, read on. Our experts tell you how to read food labels and understand them correctly.
The U.S. government (and most other governments around the world), require that all food products have a food label. Some governments are very specific about the content of the food labels but by and large most food labels mention:
- Serving size
- Calories per serving
- Nutrition information
- Total weight of the package
Although not legally binding, some discerning food packers and manufacturers go to the extent of using different background colors to segregate the information. For the purpose of reading the food labels, you may ignore the colors and follow these steps of how to read food labels.
Start at the top – Serving size and calories per serving
Serving size is quantum of the product that can be served per adult per meal. In the case of the sample label here, the serving size is one cup. It also mentions that the entire package contains two servings i.e. it is meant for two people or one person can eat it at two different times.
Immediately below the serving size, the label mentions the number of calories per serving i.e. calories per cup. The calorie count does not include anything you might add to the content of the package. For example, if this were a soup tin and you add some chopped veggies, peas etc., then the calories figures mentioned would be excluding these additional. Also remember that if you were to consume the entire contents all by yourself in one go, then the total calories would be calories per serving multiplied by the total number of servings in the package. To this you would have to add the calorie value of any food you might have added to it.
The next piece of information on the food label pertains to the nutrition in each serving.
This bit can be quite confusing because there is no standardization as to how this information is displayed. Some food labels might mention the nutrition in grams, others might mention it in milligrams while yet others might choose to indicate nutrition as a percentage of daily requirement. Again, we need to remember that this information does not include anything you might add to the dish.
You also have to take into account whether the label was printed in the U.S. or elsewhere because if it was printed in (say) U.K., then the daily requirement mentioned would be in line with U.K. Standards which would be slightly different from those followed in the U.S. Overall however, there are only minor differences between daily requirement figures put out by USDA and those that are put out by other countries.
The most important thing to consider when reading a food label is the serving size, calories per serving, and the total number of servings in the package.
Every often food packages also come printed with a helpful recipe. The recipe might require you add various other ingredients to the contents of the package. In all such cases, remember that the calories and nutritional information mentioned on the food label pertains to the contents of the package alone and not the recipe.