A lot of interesting and important information can be found on a food label, but some people don't read food labels or aren't sure about how they should interpret the information on food labels. Learning to read food labels can be an important step in improving nutrition, and it can also save people money, as reading labels can help savvy shoppers pick out the best nutritional and financial choices in the store. In addition to looking at the nutritional information on the label, shoppers should also pay attention to the ingredients list, the claims made on the front of the label, and amount of food contained in the package.
When people think about reading food labels, they often think of the nutritional label. Nutritional labeling is designed to provide people with basic information about the nutritional content of the food they are buying, so that they can make sound choices. The top of a nutritional level indicates the size of a serving, and the number of servings in a package: it's important to pay attention to this, because a serving size might be smaller than expected, especially with high-calorie foods, in which the manufacturer may scale the serving size down to avoid having to list a high calorie content per serving.
The nutritional label also states the number of calories in a serving; as a general rule, 400 calories is high, 100 calories is a moderate amount, and 40 calories is low. The label discloses specifically the number of calories derived from fat before listing key nutritional content such as fat, saturated fat, dietary fiber, sugars, and various vitamins and minerals. This content is usually described in the form of a percentage of daily value, and people should pay attention to the number of calories total the manufacturer is using to calculate daily value, as some use a 2,000 calorie basis, and others use a 2,500 calorie basis. As a general rule, the label on a nutritionally sound item should indicate that the food is high in fiber, protein, and vitamins, and low in fats, carbohydrates, and sugars.
Beyond looking at the nutritional label, when people read food labels, they should check out the ingredients list. Some nutritional advocates are fond of saying that if a food label lists an ingredient which can't be pronounced, the food shouldn't be eaten. While this might be a little bit extreme, it is good to look for food labels which contain primarily familiar ingredients, and to seek out labels which do not list ingredients like sugar first.
It's also important to pay attention to ingredients to address concerns about food allergies and religious dietary restrictions, because strange ingredients can pop up in surprising places. Consumers who want to read food labels properly should be aware that package sizes can change, especially when a company wants to raise prices without upsetting consumers. That jar of tomato sauce with a familiar price, in other words, might not contain as much as a consumer is used to, which can mean that the sauce is actually more expensive because consumers are getting less for the same price, and that the consumer will encounter problems if he or she is relying on a familiar package size for a recipe.
It's also important to be aware of the laws surrounding claims which manufacturers are allowed to make about their food when people read food labels. Some labels such as “organic” are governed by a specific code, and foods which bear this label must indicate that they have passed inspection. Others, like “natural,” are not regulated by law, which means that a company can use that claim whenever it feels like it. For a complete listing of terms on food labels which are regulated by law, people can contact the government agency which regulates the production, sale, and safety of food, such as the Food and Drug Administration and United States Department of Agriculture in the United States.