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Reading Food Labels: The Basics - South River Compounding Pharmacy
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Reading Food Labels: The Basics

South River Compounding Pharmacy / Uncategorized  / Reading Food Labels: The Basics

Reading Food Labels: The Basics

label reading

Serving Size

We talk about servings every time we discuss how much food from each food group we eat in a day. For example, 2 servings of vegetables or 3 servings of fruit. But how do we know how much food is in a single serving?
That’s where the nutrition labels come in. A Nutrition facts label will tell you immediately what is considered 1 serving of the packaged product. It will also let you know how many of those servings are in the container. Often, it’s just an approximate number since a lot of packaging is done by the weight of the item not the quantity inside. Everything listed on the label below will be the amount per single serving of the product.

Measuring Servings by Ounces:

If you buy fresh foods like produce or bulk items like dry beans and grains, you know they don’t have nutrition labels attached to them. When you encounter a situation like this, it may help to know how to measure servings of some of the most common foods in the major food groups. One way we can do this is by measuring out servings by ounces. By measuring by ounces, you are getting a more accurate understanding of how many nutrients your body is getting throughout the day. For example, when you shop for meat at the grocery store
Grains are easily measured in ounces. If you are trying to get 6 ounces of grains a day that may seem like a lot, but it’s fairly easy to do. To put it in perspective, a single ounce of grains would be about a cup of dry cereal or 1 slice of sandwich bread. A sandwich for lunch would already contain 2 ounces towards the day’s count.
In 2005, the USDA began listing vegetable and fruit recommendations as cups rather than as servings. This is an easy way to visualize how much of each food

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture


Calories should not be automatically assumed to be bad for you. After all, we need quite a bit of calories just to stay alive and provide our muscles and organs the energy to perform daily functions. That being said, it can also be really easy to consume too many calories in any given day. While daily caloric intake is based off a number of factors including age, gender, and lifestyle, Medical News Today recommends that adult men should get between 2,000-2,800 calories a day and women between 1,600-2,400 calories a day. Depending on your food choices, your daily calorie limit can be reached with just one fatty meal or it can be achieved over the whole course of the day with lower-calorie choices.

Counting Calories

Calorie counting can be an inefficient way to lose weight if it is the only measure you are tracking. Weight loss happens when a person consumes fewer calories in a day than they burn by living and exercising. Calories are not necessarily the deciding factor on a food’s healthfulness, it’s usually by looking at fat, sugar, or sodium content that tells us where those unhealthy calories are coming from. In short, “low calorie” doesn’t necessarily equate to healthy. In that same way, many fresh and healthful foods contain many calories.
Foods like avocados, nuts, and quinoa are higher in calories but also very high in nutrients. So a 250-calorie avocado is not necessarily a “low-calorie” food, but it is packed with vitamins your body needs. It can beneficial for some people who lead active lives to eat nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods to sustain themselves.
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Not all fats are created equally. We know there is fat in packaged snack cakes and sweets, but there are also fats in fish and in nuts. What is fact and what is fiction when it comes to healthy fat?
Here we see 3 different types of fats: Total fat, Saturated Fat, and Trans Fat (not shown: Unsaturated fat). Each of these fats have very different characteristics. Just like with calories, there are good fats and there are bad fats and it helps to know the difference. In fact, there is a purpose for consuming fats in your diet. Fats provide energy to your muscles and organs when carbohydrates are not available and they play an important role in regulating the body’s temperature.
Total fat is the sum of all the different fats included in the product, even the fats which are not listed. In the example above, there are 2 grams of saturated fat and the total fat in this product is 7 grams. We can then assume that the remaining 5 grams of fat is from unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated), which is not required to be labeled.


In our example above, this food’s carbohydrates include carbs from fiber and from sugar. Knowing what this means can help you choose foods that give you the carbohydrates you need, but not the carbohydrates you don’t need!
Fiber is one of the carbs you eat that will not raise your blood glucose level. The same is not true for sugar. When you hear someone say they are “counting carbs” or “watching their carbs,” that usually means they are limiting their total carbohydrate intake (sugar, sugar alcohol, and starch) but EXLUDING carbs from fiber.
Sugar alcohols are found in foods that are labeled “sugar-free.” While the food with this label may not contain glucose, the sugar alcohols added to sweeten it have a completely different effect on the body. It all depends on how your individual body functions and what its needs are.

%Daily Values

Percent daily values is on the right side of the column and are associated with each nutrient. Daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so depending on what your daily calorie intake is, the value may be different.

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SRRX Admin