Decode Food Labels and Packaging

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Published on February 22, 2019

Decode Food Labels and Packaging

Photo of a food label

Eating Healthy Starts at the Grocery Store

Photo of a food label

If you’re confused by the nutrition or packaging labels on your favorite foods, then you’re not alone. Most people don’t understand the terms manufacturers use to describe and sell food. More importantly, whether you are trying to stick to a healthy eating plan, morphing into a new lifestyle, or just simply want to watch what you eat, it’s important to know what you’re ingesting. The good news is that healthy grocery shopping is still an option, and we have four tips to help you decode through the labels.

How many servings are you eating?

The first item listed on your label is the serving size. All the data on that label pertains to one serving. Pay close attention to how many servings are in the package. For example, if you open up a can of soup, and it says 2 servings per container, and you consume the full can, you have eaten double the amount of the items listed on the label.  If you want only the amount in 1 serving, then you need to eat ½ the can of soup.

Use the five percent to 20 percent Guide to Daily Values to choose foods

Under the daily values percentage, you’ll notice a list of items and percentages to the right column. If your food serving is within the five to 20 percent gauge, then you are on track to consuming the right amount of nutrients to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Made with organic ingredients

Manufacturers are required to identify organic ingredients on the ingredients list. To be labeled ‘organic,’ at least 70 percent of the ingredients must be organic.  Organic products are grown without the use of most pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. If it’s an animal product that was raised organically, the animals weren’t given antibiotics or a growth hormone. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (USDA) sets a criterion for organic foods, and the labels are a way to know if the food you are about to purchase contains organic ingredients.

Cage-free/Grass fed

Egg containers labeled cage-free explain that the hens are not confined to cages. They are typically still housed in hen houses with the door kept open so the hens can roam around outdoors. However that doesn’t mean the hen actually wandered outside, as some may still remain in the hen house.  Grass fed labels are similar, in that the animal  was able to roam outdoors with the freedom to graze, but how long the animal was outdoors, or if it was fed an exclusive grass fed diet remains unknown.

The best way to stick to a healthy diet, or lifestyle in line with your values or beliefs, is to fully evaluate the food packaging labels. It may take extra effort, but eating healthy goes a long way when it comes to living a clean lifestyle.

For additional help, the USDA has a video to help you further in decoding your food labels at the grocery store:


The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.