How to Read the Nutritional Information
Updated: Jun 26
The Nutritional Information is on the side of all packaged foods. It’s there alongside the ingredients list.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutritional Information or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutritional Information:
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Information is to note the serving size. You need to know that manufacturers often choose the serving size strategically to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs, big serving = big calorie intake etc. So, it's tricky – remember they want their product to look good and will use the table to skew your perception. Although the manufacturer say their serving size is 30g, be aware you could well be serving yourself 60g, doubling the calories and sugar eaten.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
Let’s use an example - plain, unsalted walnuts from Sainsbury’s.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition header is the serving size. That is a 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
INTERESTING EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small 30g nuts actually is. You may be even more surprised to know that for weight loss, a serving size of walnuts would be 5 walnuts, that’s 15g. So even if you did stick to their serving size (which is unlikely, given how humans are programmed to overeat), you’re eating twice the amount you want to for weight loss. Tricky, right?
Step 2: % Dietary Reference Intake
The % Dietary Reference Intake (%DRI) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DRI for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day, but you need to know that the reference intake is based around the MINIMUM requirement, which is very different to the HEALTHY requirement, and even more different from the OPTIMUM requirement.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a 30g walnuts has 210 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 20.6 g of fat is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 20.6g of total fat includes 2.3g saturated fat, but be aware unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction. Trans-fats (not found in walnuts btw), which are the most harmful to our health are also not labelled. This is starting to be added by some manufacturers, but we need proper legislation to enforce this.
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, shows the total carbohydrates., followed by the amount of the ‘carbs that sugar’. This is not referring to cane sugar – that would come under the ingredients list. It’s about how your body breaks the carbs down. Basically, the less ‘carbs that sugar’ the better. The best way to know what is good is by comparing the nutritional information of two similar products and choosing the one with the lowest levels of ‘crabs, which sugar’
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, 30g walnuts contains 4.4g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the nutritional information was helpful. While you may not be quite as interested in it as I am 😊 it does help you to make better choices.
Do you have questions about it? Email me and I promise to reply