Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How to Plan a Weight-loss Diet

        Health | Weight Loss

Reading Food Labels

Food labels give you the information you need to decide how a particular product fits into your calorie budget and your diet plan. Follow these five steps to scrutinize a food label. They will become second nature in no time.

  1. Size up the serving. The nutrient information on food labels is for the serving size listed, so be sure to compare the serving size to how much YOU actually eat. (For instance, a can of soup that you consider one lunchtime serving may actually contain two servings if you consult the label.) If you eat more or less than the serving listed, you'll need to adjust the nutritient information up or down.

  2. Look over the Daily Values. Daily Value information at the very bottom of the label is a handy reminder of the suggested daily amounts of key nutrients for two different calorie levels: 2,000 and 2,500 calories. Some Daily Values identify the maximum daily amounts, such as for fat, cholesterol, and sodium, while others -- carbohydrate and fiber -- are target amounts. Remember, if your calorie needs are less than 2,000 calories, these maximum daily amounts will be lower.

  3. Rate your choices with the % Daily Values. The % Daily Values make it easy to judge the nutritional quality of a food. As a quick guide, 5% Daily Value or less is considered low, and 20% Daily Value or more is high. For nutrients you need to limit, such as fat and sodium, choose plenty of foods with 5% Daily Value or less. For nutrients you need more of, such as calcium and iron, look for foods with 10% to 20% Daily Value or more.

  4. Rely on the adjectives. Descriptors on food labels, such as "low," "high," and "free," have legal definitions. This means that a food product must contain a defined amount of the specific nutrient before the label can boast about the food's nutritional merits. For example, a low-fat food can have no more than three grams of fat in the serving size noted on the label.

  5. Browse the ingredient list. It displays the food's ingredients in order by weight and is useful for finding out the main ingredients.
We've given you a lot of proven strategies for maintaining the diet you've chosen for yourself. Feel free to review these often -- everyone needs a little reminding. Good luck!

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.