No matter how healthy and natural you want to eat, sometimes, you have to buy some processed and packaged food at the supermarket. You can’t always shop at the produce section without sometimes having to go over to the packaged goods section, even if you only want to buy whole grains and oats. 

Whenever you are buying something that is remotely processed or in a commercial package, you have to go through a list of ingredients at the back. These lists aren’t easy to understand, even after you’ve been doing this for years. Some of the nutritional terms might be hard to comprehend, as well as the number of ingredients in each packet. 

Here is a step-by-step guide to understanding food labels on packages and what to look for. 


First of all, you have to know everything that should be on a food label.

The back of all packaged food items should ideally have: 

  • A nutritional facts table; 
  • List of Ingredients with a special highlight on allergies; 
  • Nutritional Claims (optional); 
  • % Daily Value table; 
  • Serving Size; 
  • Health Claims (Optional); etc. 

Important information about the food inside can be also found at the front of the packet, generally in large fonts, i.e. “No Cholesterol” and “Fat-free”. These labels in the front are usually printed to draw in health-conscious customers to a particular product, but the actual list of ingredients and nutrition facts table at the back of the package may differ. 


Anywhere on the front or the back of the packaging, you can find the serving size. The serving size is not a universal size and can differ from person to person. Calories and percentages of ingredients are usually given on the basis of individual serving sizes, but your personal size can be different from what’s printed on the package. 

For example, individual packets of soup powder are sometimes listed as “perfect for two” or “2 servings” but you might eat the whole thing yourself. In that case, you need to double the number of calories printed on the packaging per serving size. If the serving size is listed for 1 cup but you might eat or drink 2 cups of the soup, it means double the calories of that packet. 


Next comes the calories per serving. Calories are going to be printed on the packaging per serving size, and that’s what you need to consider before everything else. As per the step below, if you are intending to consume more than one serving as directed on the packet, your calories are going to add up to the total number of calories of the whole package. 

The maximum calorie intake an adult human being should eat per day is from 1500 to 1800 calories. If a packet of soup that you’ve picked out happens to be 600 calories per serving, for two people and you intend to finish the whole packet yourself, you’ll actually be consuming 1200 calories. 


Then, you have to look for the Daily Value Percent (%DV) of the food packaging. 

The higher the %DV of food, the better it is for your health. Daily Value percent refers to the per cent of your daily intake requirement of nutrition that can be fulfilled by that particular packet of food. A pack of cereal with 5% DV is just a very small portion of your daily requirement and a packet with 25% DV means you can get a great percentage of your daily nutrition requirement from that food. 

On cereal boxes and oatmeal boxes, you can find up to 15% to 20% Daily Value of your body’s requirement of iron or fibre, which means that these are good food for your health. Besides, %DV are great measurements for comparing similar foods from different brands. 


Always look for the good nutrients in what you are buying. Anything you buy in packaged form should be high in fibre, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Iron. These are the nutrients you need to look for in whatever you are buying in the supermarket, the more the better. 

Of course, not all of these nutrients are going to be present in everything that you buy, but you need to find out the brands that give you the maximum nutrition per serving. Fruit juices should have adequate fibre and Vitamin C, while whole-grain products and cereals should have more fibre, Calcium, and Iron. 


At the same time, you need to know what nutrients to avoid. Always avoid brands that have a lot of fat, trans-fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium – these are the nutrients that should be zero or minimum in your food. The more percentage of these nutrients present in the %DV of the brand, the more harmful it is for your body. Even when the packet says “Zero Trans-fat” or “Zero cholesterol” at the front, you might find a small percentage of the harmful nutrient in the “Nutrition Fat” table, so it is always important to consult the table before making a purchase. 


Next, you should check the ingredients list, where you can find a complete list of all the ingredients that had been used in the product – both natural and artificial. This is also a great place to find out if the product has anything you are allergic to or intolerant of. Sometimes, the common allergic ingredients like milk or nuts are highlighted in a bold and printed in a larger font for your convenience. 


The final step is to look for nutrition claims and health claims. These are mostly printed as an added advertisement for the product rather than for comparison. For example, you can find terms such as “Excellent source of fibre”, “High in Vitamin C”, “Calorie Reduced” or “For a healthy heart”. These are Health claims and nutrition claims that could be important when it comes to comparing two brands. 

Nutrition Claims are titles to let you know that a certain product is high in or has a large amount of a particular (or more) nutrient, and Health Claims are a declaration of that nutrient in the prevention or cure of a particular illness or disease. 
Apart from fresh fruits and vegetables, meat and seafood, bakery items, caffeinated drinks or alcohol, everything you can buy at the supermarket comes with a Food Label and a Nutrition Value Table, which makes it easier for you to decide which product to buy and what to avoid. The more natural and the more nutritional a product, the healthier it is for you, as compared to something filled with trans-fat, saturated fat, sodium or sugar.