The most important number on a food label

For the most part, we all all know how to read a food label. If you want to know how many grams of fat is in a particular food, look at the label, find fat, and look at the number next to it. Want to know how many grams of protein? Look at the label. Find the number next to protein. Carbs? Same thing. Boom. Done. You can do this for all macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) and some micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). We all know this and a lot of us actually do read the label before buying a particular item; however, most people often overlook the most important part of the entire label. What is it you ask? The most important part of any food label is the serving size. The serving size is what brings context to the entire label. It doesn't matter how grams of this or that are in the food if you don't know how much of the food you can actually eat.

If you don't look at the serving size, you're open to being tricked. Think about this. You see a package of trail mix. You look at the label and see that a serving of this particular trail mix has 8g of fat, 13g of carbs, and 4g of protein for a total of 140 Calories. The thing you didn't look at was that the serving size was 1 oz and there are 6 servings so you eat the whole package thinking that you had a great, low Calorie snack. In actuality, you really consumed 48g of fat, 78g of carbs, and 24g of protein for a total of 840 Calories! Because you did not fully read the food label, you consumed nearly half the typical daily requirement of Calories at once. 

Things to look out for

  • Tiny serving sizes

    A bad offender of this is baked goods. Go into your nearest convenient store and pick up a jumbo muffin. You will likely see that that there are around 300 Calories. If you read the label carefully there will likely be something sticks out to you. The serving size will likely be 1/2 of a muffin! If you eat the whole muffin you will really be consuming 600 or more Calories!
  • Too good to be true health claims

    Many foods will put out products claiming 50% fewer Calories or 33% less fat with the same great taste! Again, you have to look at the serving size. If you do, you might notice that this magical 50% fewer Calorie food might also magically have a 50% smaller serving size.

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