Breaking Down the Nutrition Label

bar isle at grocery store

Written by Chrissy Arsenault, MBA, RDN, LD

When it comes to food, it’s okay to judge a book by its cover!

The nutrition label can be difficult to decode, especially with the recent changes [1]. It has so many different things and numbers listed. What does all of it even mean?

Whether you’re shopping online or in-person, I’ll break down the nutrition label line by line so that you can be more confident in the food choices you make.

For this exercise, I’ll use one of my favorite snacks, the Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar, as an example. These have a delicious, chewy texture and are plant-based, better-for-you snacks with only 1 gram of sugar, 3 grams of net carbs, and no high-intensity sweeteners!

blueberry almond vanilla keto granola bar nutrition facts

Nutrition Facts

Let’s start from the top. This big, bold font lets you know where to look for a nutrition label. It’s found on packaged foods and drinks to help guide your choices.

Fresh or bulk foods like fruits, veggies, and bulk nuts and seeds may not come with a label. For these foods, you can use apps like MyFitnessPal to look at the nutrition information.

Servings Per Container

This part of the nutrition label tells you how many servings there are in the entire food package.

The most important thing to note here is that everything you see on the nutrition label is based on one serving! As you’ll see in this example, sometimes foods have more than one serving in the whole package so it’s important to check what this says before you look at the rest of the information.

Some foods may also break down this number into two sections: one for the serving and one for the entire package.

In this example, each Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar is 1 serving. If you purchase a 12-count box, there are 12 servings since there are 12 bars!

Serving Size

The serving size refers to the amount of food that is typically consumed at one time. It’s denoted in measures like teaspoons, cups, pieces, etc. depending on the food.

This is important to note for foods like ice cream, where the serving size is only considered ½ cup. One scoop of ice cream is probably likely to be several servings, so make sure to check the serving size to be able to compare foods and servings!

The serving size of a Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar is 1 bar or 32 grams.

Calories

Calories are measures of energy. There are several components of foods that contribute calories: carbohydrates (carbs), fat, and protein.

The number of calories you need in a day depends on your age, sex, activity level, weight, height, and several other factors. General guidance recommends 2,000 calories per day as a guide. Check out this guide from the United States Department of Agriculture if you want to learn how many calories are recommended for you.

A Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar has 140 calories.

Total Fats

Contrary to popular belief, eating fats does not make you fat! Each gram of fat has 9 calories, so the calories add up quickly, but your body needs fats to function properly.

Eating enough dietary fats helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K! Fats also support healthy skin and hair and essential functions in your organs.

The recommended daily value for total fats is 78 grams per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Under this category, there are several types of fats:

  • Saturated fats are typically found in meats, dairy, and baked goods.
    • The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend less than 10 percent of calories per day from saturated fat because they may increase your bad cholesterols. [2]
    • However, some plant-based sources of saturated fats are healthy, such as palm kernel oil and coconut oil. These oils consist of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which the body is able to use very efficiently. Plus, MCTs may support metabolism and weight loss. [3]
  • Trans fats can be found in meats and dairy. They’re also created when food is processed or fried, so you’ll find trans fat in foods like frostings and donuts. Guidelines recommend avoiding foods with trans fat as much as possible, due to their effects on bad cholesterols. [4]
  • Unsaturated fats are found in foods like fish, seafood, and many plant-based foods like avocados, olives, nuts, and seeds. These are healthy fats that you should try to eat more of, since they reduce your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol. There are two different types of unsaturated fats:
    • Polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs) are found in fish, nuts, seeds, mayonnaise, oil-based salad dressings, and vegetable oils. These fats have more than one double bond (poly) in their chemical structure. PUFAs can lower the risk for heart disease, support pregnancy and babies’ development, and boost your brain health.
    • Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are found in avocados, mayonnaise, oil-based salad dressings, nuts, olives, seeds, and vegetable oils. These fats only have one double bond (mono) in their chemical structure. MUFAs can help lower the risk for heart disease and improve blood sugar control.

Following our example, our Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar has 12 grams of total fat. Out of those, 8 grams are from unsaturated or healthy fats, which come from almonds, sunflower seeds, and flaxseeds!

Cholesterol

Dietary cholesterol comes from animal products like meats, eggs, shellfish, and butter. Our body can make cholesterol on its own, so it’s generally not needed from food.

If you focus on eating mostly whole, plant-based foods, you shouldn’t need to worry too much about this section on the nutrition label.

Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bars contain no cholesterol.

Sodium

Sodium refers to the salt content in food. Most sodium comes from packaged and prepared foods rather than the salt that you add to food when cooking or eating.

It’s only needed in small amounts in the body. The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium in a day [5], but the recommended limit is much lower at 2,300 milligrams!

Foods highest in sodium content include processed and cured meats, pizza, sandwiches, bread, hot dogs, soups, and salty snacks like chips.

Each Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar is low in sodium (70 milligrams). It comes from a tiny amount of sea salt that’s added.

Total Carbohydrates

Carbs are not evil! Your body needs enough carbs to turn carbs into blood sugar. Blood sugar is then used as the primary energy source of your body’s organs and cells.

However, some people cut back on their total carbs for health reasons. With very low carb intake and high fat intake, your body uses fat (ketones) as the primary energy source instead of carbs. This is commonly seen on the keto diet.

Each gram of carbohydrate has 4 calories. The recommended daily value for total carbs is 275 grams per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

There are several elements of total carbs:

  • Dietary fiber is made of many blood sugar molecules linked together. Thus, it can help you have more frequent bowel movements and feel fuller after meals. [6]
  • Total sugars refer to all sugars that are found in food, both naturally-occurring and added.
    • The nutrition label now specifies added sugars, which can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and cavities. The Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting the calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day.[7]
  • Sugar alcohols are carbs that taste like sugar, but aren’t entirely absorbed by the body. You can read more about sweeteners, including sugar alcohols, here.
  • Allulose is a natural sweetener that helps sweeten foods, but isn’t digested or absorbed by the body. It’s one of my personal favorites!
  • Glycerin also falls into this group. It’s added to foods like Munk Pack Keto Granola Bars to retain moisture.

My favorite Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar has 12.5 grams of total carbs. Out of those carbs, 5 grams are from allulose, 0.5 grams from vegetable glycerin, and 5 grams from dietary fiber, which can be subtracted from the net carb calculation.

If you’d like to learn more about how to calculate net carbs and how they affect the body differently than total carbs, read my article here!

Protein

Protein comes from a variety of foods, including meats, fish, seafood, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, and seeds. Most Americans get enough protein daily to meet their needs, but much of it comes from meat. Balancing this with healthy, plant-based proteins is key!

Each gram of protein provides 4 calories. The recommended daily value for total protein is 50 grams per day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.

In this Munk Pack Keto Granola Bar, you can see that there are 5 grams of plant-based protein, from nuts and seeds.

Vitamins and Minerals

The nutrition label also lists essential vitamins and minerals: vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium. Vitamins and minerals are substances that help your body function well!

Eating foods that are rich in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium and reduce your risk for potential health risks such as anemia, osteoporosis, and high blood pressure.

Unless you’re aware of nutrient deficiencies from your blood work, you shouldn’t need to focus too much on this section on the label.

These Keto Granola Bars have some iron, calcium, and potassium to boost your intake.

The Bottom Line

The nutrition label can be overwhelming, so I always recommend simplifying it by focusing one by one on servings, calories, fat, sodium, carbs, and protein. Next time you’re checking out the nutrition facts and need help, come back here to check my example using the Munk Pack Blueberry Almond Vanilla Keto Granola Bar!

What other questions do you have when it comes to scanning the nutrition label? Comment below and let me know!

References[+]

Up Next: Sweeteners 101: Pros and Cons