Out in the grocery store, while buying a packaged food item, the first question that clicks your mind is, “Is it healthy to buy a packaged food for my kid?”

The ONE-word answer is YES, only if you don’t overdo it.

But before you buy the item, you CHECK its manufacturing and expiry date. Well, that’s crucial, but there’s something EQUALLY IMPORTANT to look for.

THE NUTRITION FACTS LABEL! The long, bold, black label you find on every packaged food item.


However, the REAL CHALLENGE begins NOW!

How to decode that label? What those facts and numbers MEAN?

Yes, many of us don’t understand what to read on the nutrition facts label. We know there is the mention of energy, protein etc., but what should we actually look for?

So, here comes my Mini guide to help you decode your label; to help you decide which ITEM is the RIGHT choice for your family’s health and nutrition.

Let’s study them one-by-one.

What’s on the nutrition facts label?

#1 Serving Size

That’s the first number on the Nutrition Facts Label!

Usually, the serving size is mentioned along with the amount of it served in 1 serving size.

Check if you are purchasing a serving size of 1 or more. E.g. a canned box of fruit juice is a serving size 1 (250 ml) and a family pack is the serving size 4 (1 litre).

IMPORTANT: They mention all the nutrients in ‘value per serving’.Therefore, multiply all the nutrient numbers with the serving size to find out their actual amount you consume. e. g. If the box says 50 calories per serving and has serving size of 4, then the whole box contains 200 calories.

#2 Energy/Calories

They are defined as the intake of energy. The amount of calories you consume is the amount of energy you gain.

Please note that the amount of calories is always mentioned in per serving that is a standard portion served for 1. However the amount you consume will depend on the portion size you eat.

Always prefer a food rich in nutrients but low in calories.

#3 Fat

Usually, three types of fats are mentioned on the label.

  • Unsaturated fats: These are the healthy fats in the food. They can be mentioned together or separated as MUFA and PUFA. They lower the level of bad fat, increase the level of good fat, lower the cholesterol and are good for the heart.
  • Saturated fats: They fall under the bad fat category as they easily mix with the blood and form a clot or can stick on the arterial wall thus leading to an increased risk of heart disease. These fats are also the reason for early obesity in kids. Make sure they are low in amount on the label.
  • Trans fat: They are partially oxidised fats and the most dangerous of all. They are added to the food items to increase their shelf life, but are linked with obesity, diabetes and heart diseases. Make sure they are the least in amount on labels.

Normally 20-25gm of fat per day is recommended for a healthy adult. Of these make sure the food is rich in MUFA/PUFA for maximum benefits.

Related: How to choose the right cooking oil for your family?

#4 Cholesterol

It is the free form of fat present in the body. High density lipoprotein or HDL is a good form whereas low density lipoprotein or LDL is the bad form of cholesterol.

Remember that cholesterol is important for the transport of proteins in the blood but too much presence in the food item makes it risky.

Watch out for the amount of cholesterol in a food item, which must be less than 200 mg. Also note the per serving level.

#5 Sodium

It is present in the salt added to the food items as a preservative or for taste. Sodium intake per day should be 2300 mg. Make sure your food item has less sodium, as the salt input while preparing food is also considered.

High consumption of sodium disturbs the sodium channels and leads to altered blood pressure and kidney functions.

#6 Carbohydrates

They are the major source of calorie intake. 60% of your calories should come from carbohydrates. 1 gm of carbs provides 4 calories.

#7 Dietary fibre

These are the compounds that are partially digested in the intestines and help in preventing constipation. Per day recommendation of dietary fibre is greater than 40 mg. Always go for foods containing good amounts of fibre in them.

#8 Sugar

Read this part carefully, especially in the sweet food section. 38gm of sugar for men, 25gm of sugar for women and less than 25 gm of sugar for kids is the recommended intake per day.

Sugars are added as preservatives in the food. Juices and canned foods are rich in sugars. Beware before purchasing them.

Related: Healthy alternatives to canned juices

#9 Proteins

0.8 to 1gm protein per kg body weight is ideal for daily consumption. A food rich in protein is effective for muscle development and overall growth. But be cautious to read other sections as well before purchasing. Just looking at a high protein, high fibre food should not make you choose high sugar and high caloric food as well.

#10 Vitamins and Minerals

Usually most of the vitamins and minerals that are predominantly present in a particular food item are mentioned along with the values.

#11 Percent daily value

This is based on the number of nutrients the body needs in a single day. A value of 5% in front of each nutrient is considered as low and a value of 20% is considered as high.

#12 Ingredients

Check for the ingredients present in the food.

Usually all the preservatives, additives, sweeteners, enhancers etc. are written in the ingredient section.

Reading the ingredients will give you an idea of how much natural and unnatural food items you are consuming.


Reading your food labels is necessary!

As it is rightly said:

Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.

~ George Bernard Shaw

So, the next time you visit the grocery store, remember to CHECK THE NUTRITION FACTS LABEL of the food items you purchase.

CHECK the serving size.

SELECT FOODS that have high daily percentage of food value for fibre, Vitamin A and C, calcium, and iron. Avoid foods high in trans fats, cholesterol and sodium.


What's on your food labels? Learn how to read and understand the nutrition facts label on your food items so that you purchase the right one for your health. #MomandMe #health #nutrition

Found this guide helpful? Let me know in the comments.

Before you leave, can I ask for a small favour? Please share this post on your social media channels like Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter! That would mean a lot to me and also help others make the right choice for their family. 1F642 - How to read and understand the nutrition facts label on the food items?

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Dr Vinita Vashist

Hi, I am Dr Vinita, a homoeopathic medical professional and a post-graduate in Dietetics and Nutrition. Intrigued by the role of diet in one’s health, I share my ideas and knowledge on this blog to help parents understand the important nutrients required for their child’s health, which they cannot substitute later in life. It will help you and I understand the basic problem of today’s generation regarding nutrition and how can you inculcate healthy eating habits in your child.


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