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Read a Good Food Label Lately?

Reading food labels can be confusing and time consuming. But it can also be worthwhile. Knowing how to read food labels is especially important if you have health conditions, such as diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or if you have been advised to follow a special diet.

Food labels make it easier to compare similar foods to see which is a healthier choice. The more practice you get reading food labels, the better you can become in using them as a tool to plan your healthy, balanced diet.

Begin with comparing labels on the foods you eat most often.

  • Chapter 1: Start at the top

  • The first heading on a food label is the serving size. This is the guide for the rest of the label. This tells you what a serving size is and how many servings are in the container. If you eat or drink the whole thing and there is more than 1 serving, you will need to multiply the numbers by two or more.

  • Chapter 2: Look for calories

  • The next section tells you how many calories are in each serving. Calculate not only how many calories are in a single serving, but how many calories are in the entire container.

  • Chapter 3: Notice fat, cholesterol and sodium

  • Fat, cholesterol and sodium are nutrients that you should be aware of and limit. The fat content is broken down by total fat, saturated fat and trans fat. Cholesterol and sodium are listed separately and tell you how much is contained in each serving.

  • Chapter 4: Read carbohydrates and protein

  • Carbohydrates and protein are listed next. Carbohydrates are broken down further into dietary fiber and sugars. Look at each one of these, remembering that the listed amounts are per serving.

  • Chapter 5: Read additional nutrients

  • At the bottom are additional nutrients, such as vitamins, calcium and iron. Each one of these are listed as a percentage based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

  • Chapter 6: Check percent daily value

  • The percentage of daily value is listed on the right hand side for each nutrient. These percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Percent Daily Value (DV) on the Nutrition Facts label is a guide to the nutrients in one serving of food. For example, if the label lists 15 percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides 15 percent of the calcium you need each day.

The YMCA of Greater Kansas City offers the YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program. This program helps those at risk for type 2 diabetes develop and maintain a healthy lifestyle related to healthy eating, healthy weight loss, and physical activity. For more information please go to We also offer a mobile (smartphone) diabetes prevention program to assist those of you on-the-go with evidence-based strategies to help you meet your health and wellness goals.

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