ULTIMATE Savvy Guide to Getting Started (Part 4 ~ Label Reading)

label readingLet’s talk label reading.

You may already be doing this, but bear with me. I see many people looking at the calories, but they are not too certain about what else they are looking at and how to decipher it.

Label reading is an important component of healthy eating and changing your lifestyle unless you are already not eating anything packaged, in which case kudos to you.

For the rest of us…

I know label reading can be time-consuming, and overwhelming at first, allow time for it when you go to the grocery store.

Remember that you won’t have to do it every time, it will soon become second nature.

You’ll have your weekly items that you can toss in the cart because you already know what they contain and of course your fresh veggies and fruit that you don’t have to worry about a nutrition label on.

So, here is an intro to Label Reading 101:

On the Nutrition Label you will find:

  • The serving size which the nutrient information is based on.
  • An expanded list of nutrients –listed in order of descending volume (watch out for similar items being listed twice making the volume higher than it appears, ie. Various forms of sugar like Corn syrup and maltodextrin)
  • The percentage of daily value (DV) – this is a reference specific to food labels, they indicate the percentage of recommended daily nutrients provided in a single serving, with the goal of a person ingesting 2000 calories/day.

Beware of label fables! – Some health claims are deceptive.

  • For example a product labeled “light”, “low fat”, or “low sodium” may sound healthier. But it may contain only marginally less sodium or fat, and could be higher in other additives to make up for the taste and colour expectations.
  • Also beware of products claiming they are “Natural”. Almost anything can carry this label, so again it is important to read the ingredients list and compare.

When reading food labels remembernot all calories are created equal, where the calories are coming from is more important than how many calories there are.

  • For example: 100 Calories from a 100 calorie snack and 100 calories from a serving of almonds will digest differently and affect your blood sugar differently.

Additional things to consider when looking at a food label:

Serving size

  • Number in brackets is the weight of the serving – weight will help you compare serving sizes (apples to apples).


  • Watch out – it’s only correct when you consume that serving
  • Ask yourself where the calories are coming from. You can tell this by scanning the macronutrient gram amounts to see which one is the highest. Calories are not as important as where they are coming from.


  • Always look to see what kind of fat is in the product
  • For example Coconut oil is good but a fried cracker isn’t.

Sodium and Cholesterol

  • Cholesterol is a vital bodily substance and the body makes 70 – 80 % of the cholesterol it needs, research has shown there is a limit to how much can be absorbed from whole food at any one time.
  • On a label for a processed food the cholesterol should be relatively low, the average daily value is a maximum of 300mg/day
  • The total maximum daily value acceptable for sodium is 2500mg


  • The amount of carbs per serving will tell you a lot about the product
  • There should be less than 2 grams of sugar for every 5 grams of carbohydrates
  • A quality food will have a minimum of 3 grams of fiber per serving


  • Most foods have some protein in them, but don’t assume you are getting a full serving of it.
  • Increase protein without consuming too much of another area by choosing a vegetable, or fruit to pair it with.


  • A quality food will only have a few ingredients.
  • Try to avoid purchasing anything with a list of ingredients that you don’t understand, it looks like a science experiment.
  • A list of less than ten ingredients is best, less than five is ideal.


If you aren’t already label reading then start the next time you go to the grocery store. It’s ok if you aren’t ready to change the items you normally buy. By familiarizing yourself with the ingredients you will start to feel better about any small changes you make.

If all you do now is drink an extra glass of water a day you are off to a great start!

So, for a quick recap I gave you a challenge in Part 1, we have looked at Grocery Tips in Part 2, and Common Concerns in Part 3.

There’s still more to come, Part 5 of 6 is coming soon!

Note: Please remember that these are basic guidelines. Keep your current state in mind, if you have any medical conditions consult with your doctor. Use what you can and ignore the rest, at least for now. 

Lisa Corkum is not a Nutritionist, Registered Dietitian, psychologist or Medical Professional. The information on this website is not intended to  diagnose or replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice.