5 Ways You're Reading Nutrition Labels Wrong


You're Falling for Foods With a Health Halo

Woman reading nutrition label

You can't walk down the supermarket aisles without being inundated with claims like gluten-free, organic, whole-grain, and all-natural. Sure, they sound healthy, but research shows that consumers often assume foods with these claims are healthier than those without them. That's not always the case. 

Gluten-free items can still be packed with starchy carbs. Whole-grain goods can be loaded with fat. And all-natural isn't even a government-regulated term! Another type of health halo? Brands with charitable social missions. Research shows people assume their foods are healthy, but there's zero correlation. Check both the ingredients lists and nutritional panels to make sure a product fits within your goals.



You're Assuming Small Packages Are Single Servings

Hispanic woman reading ingredients on chips
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Nuts, candy, trail mix, chips... so many foods come in snack-sized packages, and you'd think those small-batch packs would all be single servings. The truth is they often contain up to three servings.

You have to look at the line on the nutritional label that says “Servings Per Container.” Then do the math, or find some truly single-serving snacks.

Tip: To save cash, buy multi-serving packages. Divide servings into individual bags for your own DIY snack packs.


You're Trusting Too-Good-to-Be-True Numbers

Label Reading Mistake: Trusting Too-Good-to-Be-True Numbers...
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Yup, you love those muffins at your local corner bakery. They seem like a real find: huge and dripping with icing and only 120 calories and one gram of fat. Not likely. Especially if they’re from a small, mom-and-pop brand.

The lesson here is to trust your instincts. If the information on the label or the menu is so good it's almost hard to believe, then put the product down. It's better to err on the side of caution and stick with tried-and-true products instead.


You're Buying Into No-Calorie Labels

Label Reading Mistake: Buying Into No-Calorie Labels
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Before you douse your veggies with no-calorie spray butter or stock your kitchen with zero-calorie salad dressing, here's what you need to know. The official FDA rule is that if a product has less than five calories per serving, the label can claim it has zero calories. It might seem like a small difference, but if the serving size is really tiny and/or you use a lot of that product, those calories can really add up.

For example, most nonstick cooking sprays claim 0 calories per serving, but the serving size is about a 1/4-second spray. A more realistic 1-second spray has 5 to 10 calories and about a half gram of fat. Still a calorie bargain, but definitely not calorie-free!


You're Disregarding Portion Weight

Label Reading Mistake: Disregarding Portion Weight
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A serving of your favorite snack is a whopping 18 chips, or is it? Look closely and you'll see many labels claim a count of "about" a certain number of chips, cookies, or pieces. The true serving size is listed by weight. Toss those chips on a food scale and you might be shocked to learn that a serving is only 12 or 13 chips.

Labels also use the "about" loophole when describing the servings per container. If it says "about 2 servings," don't think you can eat half the container and call it a single serving. That container may very well house 2.5 servings. So grab that kitchen scale and your must-have kitchen tools and use them!

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