Tips to Understanding Nutrition Labels

By: Madison Brunner

We asked Laura Edwards, dietitian manager at UPMC McKeesport, for some tips on understanding nutrition labels.

What are some red flags on a nutrition label?

A. High levels of both saturated and trans-fats, cholesterol, and sodium are the biggest red flags on a nutrition label. Overconsumption of these nutrients is linked to increased risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Currently, many Americans are above the recommended intake for these nutrients. Consume under 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day to prevent these risks.

What is something nutritious to look for on a label?

A. Nutrients in the blue section of the above graphic are important to consume daily. These include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron. Foods containing 20 percent or more of these nutrients are considered nutrient-rich, and any food with less than 5 percent of nutrients in the blue section is not beneficial to health.

What are your recommendations for consuming appropriate portion sizes?

A. Make sure the portion size on the label is the portion you are eating, and never assume a smaller food package means it is portioned to be a single size serving.  Serving size and number of servings per package are always listed on the food label.  It’s important to recognize all nutrition information, including calories, are for one serving of the food.  Therefore, if you eat a package of food that contains two servings, you must double all nutrient information. Sometimes it can be helpful to measure food onto a plate to ensure you are consuming an appropriate portion, especially if the food item comes in a larger box. Mindless snacking out of a bag or box often leads to overeating, so portioning your food helps prevent this. Also, it’s important to note that nutrition labels are geared for adults and they are not applicable to children.


Tips to Understanding Nutrition Labels