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Decoding Nutrition Labels: Your Guide to Making Informed Food Choices

The nutrition label is one of the most valuable tools for making informed food choices. While it may seem overwhelming at first glance, understanding how to read these labels can empower you to select foods that support your health goals. Today, I'm here to demystify the process and highlight why paying attention to ingredients is crucial.

When you pick up a packaged food item, your eyes may naturally gravitate toward the bold numbers indicating calories, fat, carbohydrates, and protein. While these are essential factors to consider, the real story lies in the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, meaning the first ingredient listed is the most abundant, and the last ingredient listed is the least abundant. This order is significant because it gives you insight into the overall composition of the product.

For instance, if sugar or a form of it (such as high fructose corn syrup) is listed as one of the first ingredients, it clearly indicates that the product is high in added sugars, which can contribute to various health issues when consumed excessively. On the other hand, if whole grains, fruits, or vegetables top the ingredients list, you can feel confident that the product is likely a healthier choice, providing essential nutrients and fiber.

In addition to scrutinizing the ingredients list, paying attention to serving size and servings per container is essential. Many people overlook this information and end up consuming more calories, sugar, and other nutrients than they realize. By understanding the serving size and comparing it to your typical portion size, you can more accurately assess the nutritional content.

Now, let's talk about the 5-20% rule, also known as the Percent Daily Value (%DV). This guideline can help you quickly assess whether a particular nutrient is in high or low amounts in a food item. Here's how it works: if a nutrient is listed as providing 5% or less of the daily value, it's considered low, while 20% or more is considered high. For example, if a snack bar contains 15% of the daily value of fiber, it's a good source of fiber. Conversely, if it contains 25% of the daily value of saturated fat, it's high in saturated fat and may not be the healthiest choice.

Mastering the art of reading nutrition labels is a valuable skill that can empower you to make healthier food choices. Remember to prioritize the ingredients list, pay attention to the order of ingredients, and avoid products with a long list of artificial additives and preservatives. Use the 5-20% rule to gauge the nutritional value of a food item quickly, and always consider the serving size to ensure you're consuming an appropriate portion. Making informed decisions at the grocery store can nourish your body and support your overall health and well-being.

Please schedule a FREE consultation if you would like to learn how we can work together to achieve your health goals!


Sarah Barry, NCPT

Clinical Nutritionist, Certified Pilates Instructor

NextGeneration Nutrition believes that better health should be accessible to everyone and that we all are able to improve our health through good nutrition, physical activity, and lifestyle change. We do not support setting shame-based goals but encourage embracing our bodies, genetics, and personality. Our philosophy is abandoning the “One Size Fits All” mentality to create a personalized wellness plan based on your biological makeup and your lifestyle.

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