understanding food labelsWhen it comes to reading the label on the back of any food or drink, it is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the ingredients and nutrition facts. This is especially difficult for those who have only recently started to focus on the importance of nutrition while trying to live a healthy lifestyle.

While not everyone needs to become a nutritionist to understand what the body needs, it is important to become educated about what exactly you are putting into your body. Learning to understand food labels is the first step to leading a healthier, nutritionally balanced lifestyle.


First things first, it doesn’t do much good to know how many carbs you need in a day if you don’t know how many servings you are eating. At the top of any label, the amount of servings contained is listed under “Nutrition Facts.”

Right along with the servings is the serving size, usually listed in grams. Understanding these two simple factors is pertinent as this will serve as the basis for deciding how much to eat and what you are getting out of it.

Filling a cereal bowl with cereal does not mean you are getting “one serving” as this could be far less than or far greater than the amount listed on the box. When limiting certain groups, such as carbs or sugar, it is important to stick to read food labels for context regarding recommended serving sizes.


Next, you will likely see the number of calories listed (for one serving size, of course). This is an essential piece of information for individuals who are looking to lose, maintain, or gain weight.

Weight is the result of the number of calories consumed and the number of calories burned throughout the day. If the goal is to shed some pounds, engaging in physical activity that burns more calories than are consumed throughout the day is necessary.

In addition to the number of calories present, the amount of calories from fat is usually listed as well. While most Americans now know that fat gain comes from excess carbs, having too much fat in the diet is likely to cause other issues such as high blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


This is usually the area that starts to confuse people as food and beverage companies largely focus their marketing efforts on buzzwords like low calorie or low fat rather than nutritional content.

The nutrients listed typically include cholesterol, sodium, calcium, fat and vitamins that need to be consumed throughout the diet. Sodium especially is necessary (in the proper amount) for muscle contractions and calcium is needed for bone health.

Some of these nutrients are commonly consumed in excess, whereas many Americans are deficient in others.

Those often consumed in excess include sodium, cholesterol, and fat. All of these are necessary for regular and healthy function of the body but in excess can lead to health issues.

On average, most people are not meeting their recommended daily intake of other nutrients such as calcium, iron, and vitamins. These are necessary for functions such as bone health, the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood, and maintenance of the human body such as eyesight, skin, nails, and more. These nutrition needs can be difficult to meet through diet alone and commonly achieved through supplementation.

Daily Value

Daily value is where the % signs start flying around. In most cases, these are the recommended daily values based on a 2,000-calorie diet. While this is helpful to know, it is important to note that individual caloric needs vary from person to person.

A college football player and a middle-aged recreational athlete will have significantly different caloric demands. It is possible to gauge the exact values necessary yourself with some simple math but a nutritionist may also assist with this process to guarantee all considerations are addressed.

Daily value will also be in place for ingredients such as carbs. While there are recommendations for how many macro-nutrients (carbs, fat, protein) should be consumed daily, this is variable based on individual activity level and dietary needs.

A marathon runner will need a lot more fat to sustain energy levels throughout their training. Likewise, a high school athlete trying to make the jump to college sports will require more protein and carbs than most of the population, especially as their bodies are still developing.

Importance of Nutrition and Understanding Food Labels

Reading over food labels can be intimidating at first but it doesn’t have to be. As you start to educate yourself about certain ingredients, such as those listed in this article, you will get a better understanding of what it is that your body needs.

At Total HealthcareMD, nutrition is the foundation of our physician-supervised weight loss program. All new patients are required to sit down with our medical professionals for a 90-minute consultation. During this consultation, you will meet with a registered dietician to discuss your work schedule, likes, dislikes, home and family situation, and more.

Using indirect calorimetry technology to accurately calculate your metabolism, we can help determine how many calories you should consume on a daily basis to lose weight and keep it off. We can also offer guidance regarding what to look for and avoid on food labels when shopping at the grocery store and how to make healthy eating choices when dining out.

We not only help patients achieve and maintain a healthy weight but also sleep better, develop more energy and enjoy an overall higher quality of life. For more information about our Total HealthcareMD’s program, call (919) 436-3777.