Understanding Food Labels

When you eat packaged food, the best way to figure out exactly what’s in your food is to use the “Nutrition Facts” label found on the outside of the container.

Serving Size

A serving size is a standard measurement based on the amount of food people typically have at one time. It helps you figure out how many calories and nutrients are in the food on your plate. Pay attention to the serving size, including the number of servings in a package, and compare it to how much you’re actually eating.


Percent (%) Daily Value shows how much a serving of that food gives you for each nutrient listed. These daily goals are set by the government, based on current nutrition recommendations. The percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. However, people with diabetes trying to lose weight need fewer calories. Talk to your doctor or your diabetes educator about how to adjust the % Daily Values on labels for your diet. But in general, follow these nutrition guidelines:

  • Fat: Choose 3g or less per serving.
  • Sodium: Choose options with less sodium. People with diabetes should aim for less than 2000mg of sodium per day.
  • Carbohydrate: Check total carbohydrate (sugars are part of total carbohydrate). Most people need between 120-300g of carbs per day.
  • Fiber: High fiber is good; try 3g or more per serving.


When you’re looking at the ingredients, the fewer that are listed there, the more likely that it is healthy for you to eat. Try to choose foods that have heart-healthy ingredients, such as whole-wheat flour, soy, oats, monosaturated fats like olive, canola or peanut. Try to avoid unhealthy ingredients like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil.

Label Claims

Some food labels make claims such as “low cholesterol”, “low calorie’, “low fat” or “low sugar”. Use your own judgement when selecting proper foods to eat. The more you eat a healthy diet, the more you will become comfortable making the right decisions.