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Understanding Food Labels Part II

September 8, 2014 at 10:32 AM  •  Posted in Expert Advice, Inside Scoop, Tanushree Handoo by  •  0 Comments

Good nutrition is important throughout your whole life. It helps you feel and look your best and to become stronger. It helps reduce the risk of some diseases common among older adults. Learning how to read and understand food labels are important to make informed food choices. Read on for commonly used terms and what they mean.


Check total calories/serving

This section tells you how the nutrients in one serving of the food contribute to your total daily diet. Use it to choose foods that are high in the nutrients you should get more of, and low in the nutrients you should get less of.


Make sure you get 100 percent of fibre and vitamins.


Limit your total fat to no more than 56–78 grams a day — including no more than 16 grams of saturated fat, less than 2 grams of trans fat, and less than 300 mg cholesterol (for a 2,000 calorie diet)

Expert Advice from Tanushree

Remember that the information shown in these panels is based on 2,000 calories a day.

You may need to consume less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.

  • 40 calories per serving is considered low
  • 100 calories per serving is considered moderate
  • 400 calories or more per serving is considered high.

Serving Size

This shows how many servings are in the package and how big each serving is. Serving sizes are given in familiar measurements, such as “cups” or “pieces.”

All of the nutrition information on the label is based upon one serving of the food. A package of food often contains more than one service


The calories listed are for one serving of the food. “Calories from fat” shows how many fat calories there are in one serving.

A product that’s fat-free isn’t necessarily calorie-free. Read the label!

The table below provides some of the most commonly used nutrient content claims, along with a description of what the claim means.


Calorie free Less than 5 calories
Sugar free Less than 0.5 grams of sugar
Fat free Less than 0.5 grams of fat
Low fat 3 grams of fat or less
Reduced fat or less fat At least 25 percent less fat than the regular product
Cholesterol free Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less) of saturated fat
Low cholesterol 20 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Reduced cholesterol At least 25 percent less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Sodium free or no sodium Less than 5 milligrams of sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients
Low sodium 140 milligrams or less of sodium
Reduced or less sodium At least 25 percent less sodium than the regular product
High fibre 5 grams or more of fibre


Salt is a crystal-like compound that is used to flavor and preserve food. A small amount of sodium is needed to help certain organs and fluids work properly. But most people eat too much of it – and they may not even know it! That’s because many packaged foods have a high amount of sodium, even when they don’t taste “salty.”


Limit eating too much total fat (especially saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium – these may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.  Try to keep these nutrients as low as possible each day.


This is a “nutrient you must get more of.” In addition to aiding in digestion, fibre has a number of other health-related benefits. These benefits are especially effective when you have a high fibre diet that is also low in saturated fat, cholesterol, trans fat, added sugars, salt, and alcohol.

Fibre comes in two forms — insoluble and soluble. Most plant foods contain some of each kind.

  • Insoluble fibre is mostly found in whole-grain products, such as whole grains, vegetables and fruit. It provides “bulk” for stool formation and helps waste move quickly through your colon.
  • Soluble fibre is found in peas, beans, many vegetables and fruits, oat bran, whole grains, seeds. It slows the digestion of carbohydrates, and can help stabilize blood sugar if you have diabetes.


Or “dietary fat,” is a nutrient that is a major source of energy for the body. It also helps you absorb certain important vitamins. As a food ingredient, fat provides taste, consistency, and helps you feel full. It is important to know that there are different types of dietary fat. Some have health benefits when eaten in small quantities, but others do not.

Trans Fat or Partially Hydrogenated Oil

(See Part I)
Most trans fat is made when manufacturers “hydrogenize” liquid oils, turning them into solid fats like shortening or some margarines. Trans fat is commonly found in crackers, cookies, snack foods and other foods made with or fried in these solid oils. Trans fat, like saturated fat and cholesterol, raises your LDL (bad) cholesterol. But unlike these other nutrients, trans fat also lowers your HDL (good) cholesterol. This further increases your risk of coronary heart disease.


Limit eating too much total fat (especially saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium – these may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.  Try to keep these nutrients as low as possible each day.

Click here for the first part of Understanding Food Labels.

Tanushree Handoo is a certified health coach with a holistic approach to health and happiness. She received her training at Integrative Nutrition at New York City and is certified by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners. Her passion is supporting people get back to nourishing food, self-care, activities and relationships that enhance their lives. She leads groups and workshops on Nutritional re-balancing and offers individual health and wellness coaching. If you want to know more about Tanushree, please mail us at or visit Tanushree’s website.




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