How to Read Food Labels

LAST UPDATED: June 15, 2018

Be a smart shopper! With so many options available in the grocery store, it is hard to know which ones are the healthiest choice. Before making your food selection, take a few moments to read and compare the Nutrition Facts labels and the ingredient lists. The Nutrition Facts label can help you determine foods lowest in sodium and sugar, and those highest in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Ingredient lists are a great way to learn what is in a packaged food item. Foods and beverages that are minimally processed and contain whole-food ingredients are always the best choice. The following examples can help you identify what to look for when reading and comparing labels.

Beef jerky labels

Ingredients: Look for jerky that contains food ingredients and few to no additives, such as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and sodium nitrite.

Nutrition: Choose the brand lowest in sodium.


Chocolate drink labels

Ingredients: Think chocolate milk and chocolate drinks are the same? Think again! Chocolate milk has very simple ingredients, and chocolate drinks are highly processed—they are loaded with additives and high fructose corn syrup.

Nutrition: Chocolate milk is naturally a good source of calcium and contains 8 grams of protein per cup!


Iced tea labels

Ingredients: Choose unsweetened varieties for less ingredients and no added sugar. Ingredients are listed in order from greatest amount to the least. There should not be more sugar than tea in iced tea!

Nutrition: Unsweetened tea should have zero calories and zero grams of sugars.


Oatmeal labels

Ingredients: Oatmeal should contain one ingredient: oats!

Nutrition: Choose oatmeal that has at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per serving and no more than 1 gram of sugar. There should also be zero grams of sodium.


Potato chips labels

Ingredients: Ingredients should be simple and easy to pronounce. Potatoes should be the first ingredient and there should be no hydrogenated oil.


Soup labels

Ingredients: Look for soups with all food ingredients and very little additives. Your soup ingredient label should not look like a chemistry assignment!


Wheat bread labels

Ingredients: The first ingredient should always be “whole wheat” or “whole grain” flour. Also, look for brands that contain all food ingredients, very few additives and no high fructose corn syrup or hydrogenated oils.

Nutrition: Choose bread with at least 3 grams of fiber per slice.


Yogurt labels

Ingredients: Look for yogurt with fewer than five ingredients, no added sugar, and live active cultures.

Nutrition: Choose yogurt that has at least 8 grams of protein per 6 oz. serving and at least 30% daily value for calcium. When additives replace real food ingredients, nutrition declines!


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