Navigating Nutrition Labels

It’s ok.  You’re allowed to judge food by it’s label.  I remember the sugar-coated days of when I didn’t have the know-how or  just didn’t want to know what was in my pre-packaged food.

I went ahead and bought it anyway, pretended to eat healthy and wondered why the scale would go up.  Age! It must be an age thing?? 

I reached that weight threshold and decided I wasn’t going to let age define my physique.  I was going to learn how to eat on purpose, rather than as a reaction.


Here are my simple steps for eating with a purpose and using labels in your favor:

    1. Estimate your energy needs
    2. Build your Daily Eating Plan based on your daily macro nutrient content (calories, carbohydrates, protein, etc)
    3. Let labels and Nutritional Facts guide your choices (If it is a whole food and doesn’t have a label…it’s probably a better bet!)

It’s the whole label, not just one fact.  I used to find one thing to worry about and stop there.  How many calories? How much fat? Then it either passes inspection or gets put back on the shelf.  What about how many servings? How much sodium?  What is Sodium Ethyl Para Hydroxybenzonate anyway?  Labels are supposed to educate us on the food’s nutrient and ingredient content.  So let’s break it down and know that you are going to have to do a little research to determine the amounts that are appropriate for you!

Your body needs the right combination of nutrients, including vitamins, to function.  Most nutrients are measured in grams, but also milligrams. Nutritional Information on the label is given in percentages or daily values (base on a 2,000-calorie adult diet). Unless you track your food, how do you know if you are meeting your optimum nutrient intake?  So take it for what it’s worth, it’s a guideline and I use it to see if the food is particularly out of balance.  For example, if eating one serving of this product meets the average person’s need for fat, then I will likely go over my fat intake by eating this food.  Or, if I’ll meet my daily need for Vitamin A, then this may a good source of that vitamin and I continue scanning the label.

What is this food…REALLY? The ingredient list is another important part of the label.  I like simple, easy to recognize ingredients.  I choose not to intake certain ingredients such as preservatives or nearly every form of refined sugar, this is where I find it.  The more whole the food, the better.  If I want tomatoes, I usually go right for the produce section (better yet backyard or farmer’s market) and not the canned food aisle.  If I need something packaged, like frozen shrimp, I want to see shrimp and maybe sea salt on the ingredient list.  Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight, so you get an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the food. When something is listed first, second, or third, you know that this food probably contains a lot of it. The food will contain smaller amounts of the ingredients mentioned at the end of the list.

Pass the cookie…crumb? Sometimes the serving size section makes me laugh.  Well, this cookie will fit perfectly in my diet if I have ¼ cookie.  WRONG! Not to mention, If I buy this box of cookies, I won’t stop until the package is ¼ of the way gone, so I am just going to keep on walking.  I tend to eat nutritionally dense food, meaning it’s got to pack a lot of nutrient power in even small amounts.  The serving size helps me determine this.  Nutritionally dense food may even pack a calorie punch, so accurately eating the serving size is as important as knowing what’s in it! The great thing about food packed with protein, vitamins, whole grains, etc, is that it is also going to be more filling in smaller amounts.  Being conscious of the serving size goes a long way in avoiding over-eating.

But wait there’s more! The label keeps going: health claims, nutrient content claims, exchange lists.  No wonder we either ignore it or find a few things to identify and pass or fail the food! What does it ALL mean? Are they telling the truth? The claims are regulated by the FDA and are worded so the consumer understands the relationship between the nutrient and the prevention of disease.  Exchange lists are useful for people who are following prescribed calorie-controlled diets.

Keep in mind, it starts with a personal plan, education about what is needed to nourish you and in what amounts, and what is best to be avoided.  As a part of my Don’t Weight Nutritional Coaching I offer pantry raids and grocery store safaris to educate clients on the framework of their lifestyle eating plan. 

A healthy diet is never just about the calories, just the fat or carbs…but the sources of your nutrients.  If it is packaged, that’s already a step in the wrong direction!


Jen DeVos is a woman of all trades here in the HZ.  She’s a realtor, Mary Kay Consultant and Nutritional Coach.  She recently earned her Pro Card in Figure Competition and is definitely a go-to person when you need advice about eating.  She completely transformed her body by transforming her lifestyle.  Learn more about her Nutritional Coaching program by visiting



About The Zone Magazine

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3 Responses to Navigating Nutrition Labels

  1. Carri says:

    Thanks for the guest appearance, Jen! Great blog. 🙂

  2. I’d love to do more! Anytime 🙂

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