Understanding Food Labels

Food label lingo secrets and image of nutrition label

Do you know how to read a nutrition label? What about the other labels on packaged foods?

The truth is, many people don’t because not everyone is taught how to read these labels. 

It seems like every food item, whether it’s a jar of peanut butter or a protein bar, has some kind of extra label to entice you to purchase the product. 

Low fat!

Zero calories!


Food labels have changed a lot over the years. 

Ten years ago, you probably couldn’t find a “keto” label at most grocery stores, and now they’re all around us!

Keto cookies, keto bars, keto everything!


Food Labels are a Marketing Ploy


Food labels constantly change to fit the trends of diet culture and drive us to make decisions based on a couple of words on a label. 

It’s all marketing from the food manufacturer and not necessarily related to health.

You have to consider whether these food claims align with your dietary needs.

What looks like the more nutrient-dense option based on its label might actually be inferior to your dietary needs!⁣

I’ve seen too many people fall for the “sugar-free” version of foods (some of which are more costly than the original!) only to buy something that has literally 1g less sugar than the original version!

Not to mention, a food with less of something (fat, sugar, etc.) isn’t inherently better than the original version. 

It’s not as simple as grabbing the “reduced fat,” “low carb,” or “reduced sodium” version of a product. You have to look at the entire nutritional composition of a food. 


Reading a Nutrition Label


Read more than just the marketing sticker when you’re looking to buy a product. 

Say, for example, you want to buy peanut butter, and you see the “no sugar added” version in the grocery store aisle. 

While you might assume that’s the healthier option, a quick look at the nutrition label might indicate that it’s higher in total calories, fat, and carbs.




If higher calories, carbs, and carbs are what you’re after, then the “no sugar added” version is the correct choice for you!

But, if you’re seeking out the lower calorie option, then the regular version is the way to go. 

Be sure to read the nutrition facts to get a detailed breakdown of the nutritional value of your food. Bonus points if you read the ingredients list to assist you in your decision-making process.


Common Food Label Terms 


We’ve just covered that a product without added sugar isn’t necessarily lower in calories and macros, but what about other food labels?

Here’s a quick guide to what the other food label lingo means:

If something is listed as fat free, it has 0.5g of fat per serving or less. 

Low fat means the food has 3g of fat per serving or less. 

A food that’s labeled as lean has fewer than 10g of fat per serving, and one that’s listed as extra lean has fewer than 5g of total fat and fewer than 2g of saturated fat per serving. 

Food listed as low sodium has no more than 140mg of sodium per serving, and those labeled as reduced sodium have 25% less sodium per serving than the original.

High fiber foods are those that have at least 5g of fiber per serving. 

Any food that’s listed as either 0 calorie or calorie free has less than 5 calories per serving. 

If you see a food labeled as lite, it means that it has ⅓ fewer calories or 50% less fat than the original version per serving. 

And if you see something is marketed as “high” (e.g., high in Vitamin C), that means it contains 20% or more of the recommended daily value for that nutrient. 

A “good source” is anything that contains 10–19% of the recommended daily value for that nutrient. 

Finally, if you see a food that’s labeled as “healthy,” that means it has less than: 

  • 3g fat 
  • 1g saturated fat, and 
  • 480mg sodium

As you can see, these food labels may align with your goals, but they’re there as marketing tactics, not as true measures of health. 


Work with a Registered Dietitian


I know I just gave you a lot of information about reading food labels, but don’t stress, because once you get the hang of reading and understanding these, they won’t seem as daunting. 

If you have health, fitness, or physique goals you’re trying to achieve, working with a coach who has nutrition training can be helpful. 

At KJO Coaching, we boast nearly 30 years of combined nutrition and fitness experience. That means we are well equipped to help you achieve your goals in a healthy way for your body. 

You can learn more about KJO Coaching here!

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