How to Read a Food Label

Learning how to read food labels can be difficult at first. However, it's a skill that will pay off in terms of balanced nutrition, overall health, and even weight loss. Whether it's learning what a serving size is, identifying added sugar, or keeping an eye out for sodium, knowing how to read a food label helps you understand what's really in the food you're eating -- as well as what isn't!

Food Labels -- Friend or Foe?

If you struggle with weight loss, or you simply want to maintain a healthy weight, you're probably familiar with a common scenario. You walk down the aisles of the grocery store, picking up package after package and trying to make sense of the food labels, all in an effort to find something healthy to eat. But what is it exactly that you should look for on that food label?
 
While food labels can be your biggest friend, they can also be confusing and possibly misleading if you don't look at the whole picture. However, reading a food label also can be your shortcut to losing some extra pounds and keeping them off. The key is knowing what to look for and how to effectively read the labels. Let's take a look at how that's done.
 

Starting at the Top

Starting at the top of the Nutrition Facts panel, you'll find information on what a serving size is and how many calories each serving has. This is a great place to start if you want to lose some weight (or keep it off), as a crucial part of dropping those pounds is to cut down on calories. Each person has different caloric needs, and to lose weight, each person's requirements will be different. While many diet fads focus on counting carbohydrates and fat, it really all comes down to calories consumed versus calories burned. If you eat fewer calories than your body consumes each day, you'll lose weight.
 
Sounds simple enough, right? However, if you aren't carefully counting those calories, they can quickly add up! On average, most women should consume about 1,600 to 2,400 calories a day to maintain (not lose or gain) weight, while men should consume about 2,000 to 3,000. If you want to lose weight, you'll need to cut back from the "maintenance" calories suggestion. However, these numbers will depend on numerous factors, such as your age, how active you are, and whether you have diabetes or other medical issues.
 
The serving size is also important. It's easy to simply glimpse at a package and see how many calories there are and wind up eating the whole thing, only to find out later that there were actually three servings in there to begin with. You may be surprised how small a serving size is for some foods, so make sure to check when you are counting those calories to lose some weight.
 
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