Nutrition label lingo

Identify clues to avoid holiday weight gain.

Nutrition label lingo

The concept of food labels has existed since the early 1900’s. There are clues listed on food labels that can actually help you with your weight management. If you are diabetic or pre-diabetic, understanding carbohydrates, sugars and the role of fiber starts with reading food labels. As the holidays approach it’s a good time to review the label lingo to understand hidden clues and what they reveal.

Serving size – the single most important clue:

  • It’s listed first, under nutrition facts on almost all food labels.
  • Ironically, not calories, fat(s) or carbohydrates but ”serving size” is by far the biggest clue to identify on all food labels.
  • Packaging deception – watch out! What may appear to be a small, single sized package could in reality be two or more servings.  Consuming the entire package means a ”double dose” or more of what’s listed on the label. 

Calories per serving – two hidden clues:

  • Calories – the amount of ”energy” per serving.  Almost all food nutrition labels are based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet.
  • Calories from fat – if food gets a lot of its calories from fat, eat sparingly. Total fat intake should be no less than 30percent of total calories.

Label limits:

  • Total fat – all types, especially saturated and Trans fat, are linked to health problems and weight gain.
  • Cholesterol – foods that are high in cholesterol also tend to raise blood cholesterol. These foods include liver and other organ meats, egg yolks and dairy fats.
  • Sodium–salt (sodium chloride) is the main source of sodium in foods. Only small amounts of salt occur naturally in foods. Most of the salt you eat comes from foods that have salt added during food processing or during preparation in a restaurant or at home.
  • Added sugar – know natural sugars from added sugars to reduce your consumption of sugar.

Label leaders:

  • Fiber – The Mayo Clinic   reminds us that dietary fiber, also known as roughage or bulk, includes all parts of plant foods that your body can’t digest or absorb.
  • Protein – according to WebMD, adults in the U.S. are encouraged to get 10 to 35 percent of their daily calories from protein foods. That’s about 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams of protein for men.
  • Vitamins – you should try to “get enough” of the nutrients beneficial to good health, such as vitamins A and C and minerals calcium and iron.

For more tips on health and nutrition visit Michigan State University Extension at

Related Events

Related Articles

Related Resources