How to read food labels

Use the nutrition label for a granola bar (below) to understand the following:

Illustration of a nutrition facts label

Serving size: The serving size lists how many calories and nutrients are in one serving of the food. If you eat twice the serving size, you are getting twice the calories, fat, sodium, etc.

Calories and calories from fat: Calories are a measure of energy released by a food. Try to limit your food choices to those that have less than one-third calories from fat.

Total fat: Total fat includes all types of fat. Try to eat foods low in saturated and trans fats.

Saturated fat: Saturated fat raises LDL (the "bad") cholesterol. Reduce saturated fats to help protect your heart.

Trans fat: Trans fats can raise LDL cholesterol, lower HDL (the "good") cholesterol, and add to heart disease. Eat as little trans fats as possible. Avoid foods that contain "partially hydrogenated" and "hydrogenated" oils, including shortening.

Cholesterol: Foods from animals (meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter) have cholesterol.

Sodium: Too much sodium (salt) can lead to high blood pressure. One teaspoon of salt has 2,400 milligrams of salt. This is the upper limit most people need each day.

Total carbohydrate: Carbohydrates give your body energy. However, too many can raise your blood glucose.

Fiber: If the food has 5 grams or more of fiber, subtract half of the grams from the total carbohydrate. Try to get at least 25 to 35 grams of fiber each day.

Sugar: Sugar is included in the number of total carbohydrate.

Protein: Choose lean meats, poultry and fish.

Carbohydrate Guide for Label Reading

Grams of carbohydrate

Number of carbohydrate choices

0 to 5 0
6 to 10 1/2
11 to 20 1
21 to 25 1 1/2
26 to 35 2
36 to 40 2 1/2
41 to 50 3
51 to 55 3 1/2
56 to 65 4
66 to 70 4 1/2
71 to 80 5

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Gestational Diabetes: When You Have Diabetes During Pregnancy, third edition, ISBN 1-931876-21-6
Reviewed By: Reviewed by Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
First Published: 11/27/2006
Last Reviewed: 01/20/2014