Aren’t food labels a hoot? All those beautiful percentages, grams, vitamins, etc. Nice to have them on the package, but have you ever wondered, what do they actually mean and how can you use all that information?

Well, reading food labels is an art of its own, but here is the quick guide of what you need to know. By skimming the labels with these guidelines in mind you will be able to make informed decisions about your purchase, and YES, actually know what you are eating!

1. Check the Serving Size

We often believe that the serving is the whole package, when in fact that is not the case. We often make that mistake with drinks. We see 100 calories listed and we skip looking above, where it says: serving per container 2.5. This means you just drank 250 calories!

2. The % Daily Value Content

Whether this is indicated or not, the % Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It’s a useful indicator, but keep in mind 2,000 calories is an average amount of calories. Some of us actually consume only 1,600-1,800 calories, or 2,200-2,400 so the values are not always correct. The percentages are a good reference, but if you want to be more exact pay attention to the grams and milligrams as you know exactly how much your body needs.

3. Total Fat

Goes without saying that you want to keep these numbers as low as possible. As a general rule, if you see trans fat in a product, ditch it! It’s that simple. Transfats do a series of damage to your body, and you are ALWAYS better off without them. Saturated fats are listed separately, although they are included in the total fat percentage. The reason saturated fats are listed on a separate line is because they are the main culprit for raising blood cholesterol and increasing the risk of heart disease. Hence, you want to purchase products with as few saturated fats as possible.

As for the total fat, well try to eat no more than 10-12g per meal, assuming 3 meals and 2 snacks. So if the label indicates 20g per serving, either ditch the product or have only half of the recommended serving and make sure whatever else you are eating has no other fats. However, any product that has 20g of fat per serving has way to much fat and should be able to find a better alternative.

Continue reading about cholesterol, sodium and sugars…