How to Read Nutrition Labels to Lose Weight

Scan food labels faster to get essential weight loss facts

You might know how to read nutrition labels, but do you know how to read food labels to lose weight? If you’re trying to slim down, there are a few important numbers that matter more and a few numbers that matter less. If you can learn to scan the Nutrition Facts label quickly for essential information, you’ll be able to shop faster, eat better, and lose weight with greater ease.

Learn to Read Food Labels for Weight Loss

As you read through this guide, keep in mind that the Nutrition Facts label changes from time to time. The label you see in the store today will be changing in the coming years to reflect the newest health guidelines established by the U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). By 2018, most food labels will need to use the new design. The new design includes larger text for “Calories,” “Serving size,” and “Servings per container.”  These changes will help you to find the most important weight loss information.

The images throughout this guide will show an example of an older version of the nutrition label on the left and an example of the newer version on the right. So no matter which version you find on a package, you will know how to read food labels correctly to lose weight.  

Serving Size

Nutrition Facts label serving size
U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Portion control is essential when you are trying to lose weight. And counting calories accurately matters, too. So it’s essential that you check the serving size on the food label because it will help you to eat correct portions for weight loss and to count the right number of calories each day.

  • Use “Serving size” to manage portions. The serving size on the package is not the amount of food you should eat. It is the amount of food that a typical eater consumes during a single eating occasion. So you shouldn’t use this number to decide how much food to eat. Instead, use this number only to determine how many calories are in a typical serving of that food. To find out how much of it to eat, use my guide to correct portions for weight loss.
  • Use “Serving Size” to calculate calories correctly. If you use a diet app or a website like Calorie Count or MyFitnessPal, you will enter foods and food amounts into your daily food journal to count calories and manage your diet. Most of these services use “Serving size” as the default amount. Be sure that you change the amount if your portion size is different than the serving size listed. 


Calores in Nutrition Facts Label
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

No matter what kind of weight loss plan you follow, calories matter. You’ll lose weight faster if you eat the right number of calories each day. When you read nutrition labels at the grocery store, check the calorie count to see how many you'll gain when you eat the portion of that food that you usually consume. Then compare different brands and products to see if you can find one that provides fewer calories to keep your daily intake on track. 


Fat Grams on Nutrition Facts Label
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Eating some healthy fat is good for your body and will help you to stay satisfied throughout the day. If your belly feels comfortable, you’re likely to eat less and slim down faster. But fat is full of calories, so you need to choose your fat carefully and eat it sparingly. When you read food labels, first check the total number of fat grams (red arrows) provided by the food. Then check the numbers below (yellow arrows) for further information. 


Carbs on Nutrition Facts Label
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

If you’re on a low-carb diet for weight loss, you should check this number right away. Keeping your carb intake low will make a big difference in the success of your diet.

But even if you’re not counting carbs, choosing better sources of carbohydrates is important for good health. The food label can help you make better decisions about which food to choose. But you’ll need to look underneath the “Carbohydrates” listing to get the information you need.

Check these numbers to choose good carbohydrates for your diet.


protein on Nutrition Facts Label
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

Protein is another important macronutrient for dieters. When you select foods at the grocery store, read food labels and try to choose some foods that provide protein. Lean meat products and low-fat dairy products are good examples.

But when you check the nutrition label for protein, scan the fat grams to make the number is not too high. Many protein-rich foods are also high in saturated fat. And some foods in the dairy aisle contain unhealthy trans fat. 

Food Label Numbers That Matter Less for Weight Loss

Percent daily value on nutrition facts label
U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)

All of the information on the nutrition label can help you to eat a healthy diet. But there is some information on the label that matters less when you’re trying to lose weight. It doesn’t mean you should ignore the numbers. But if weight loss is your primary goal, these numbers may be less important for you.

  • Percent Daily Value. As a dieter, the numbers listed under “Percent Daily Value” may not matter to you. In fact, depending on your specific diet, you may want to ignore these numbers completely. Why? Because the numbers tell you how much a particular nutrient contributes to your total daily diet if you consume 2,000 calories per day. Most dieters will consume far less than that. Many diet plans for women are based on a 1,200 calorie intake per day and many diets for men recommend a total daily intake of 1,600 – 1,800 calories. If you consume fewer than 2000 calories per day, then the percents listed in this column will not be accurate for you.
  • Cholesterol. Your doctor may have told you to reduce your dietary cholesterol intake. If so, this number is important for you. But choosing foods based only on cholesterol won’t necessary help you to lose weight.
  • Sodium. Most experts recommend that healthy eaters keep their sodium intake under 2,300 milligrams per day. For that reason, this number is important. But low-sodium foods aren’t necessarily better for weight loss than foods that contain more sodium.
  • Vitamins and Minerals. The numbers listed under the thick black bar give you important information about the healthy micronutrients in your food. If you choose foods that are more nutritious, it will be easier for you to build a strong, fit body. In a perfect world, dieters would choose foods that are low in calories and high in nutrition. But vitamins and minerals don’t actually cause weight loss to happen faster.

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