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This article originally appeared on the Isolator Fitness blog and is reposted here with permission. To view the original, click here.

Ideally to achieve maximum health we would eat only fresh, natural, organic foods and we would completely avoid processed or packaged options. But nothing is ideal in reality and so there are times that we must depend on the information that is provided to us through nutrition labels on packaged food items to determine which processed options are better than others. The nutritional values of fresh, natural and organic foods are also important to consider when deciding what to purchase and consume but these are not always as easily found.

Fresh, Natural, or Organic Foods

Fresh produce, beef, and seafood don’t come with nutritional labels printed out on them, but that doesn’t mean that the information isn’t out there and available for you if you decide to look. These nutritional facts will read much like the labels on your packaged food, except that in most cases you’ll find that what you’re consuming with natural foods is much healthier than what’s packed inside processed food. Some packaged food will read as “organic”, “all natural”, or “nothing artificial” but those are not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about non-packaged and fresh fruits, vegetables, beef, chicken, pork, salmon, tilapia, etc.

Packaged Foods

Nutritional labels on packaged foods allow you to compare the calorie, fat, trans fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and sugar content in any given food. With that knowledge you are in an informed position to make the most accurate decision about which foods to stay away from due to higher levels of these ingredients.

To determine which foods are better for your specific and personal dietary choices it’s also important to peruse the ingredients list to see what additives and other ingredients are present. It is always better to choose options with ingredients that you have in your own kitchen, while avoiding the chemical additives. Often times the smaller ingredient lists and larger vitamin lists provide healthier content, but this is not always the case, and the lengths of these lists should only be considered one of many things to look at when reading a nutritional label.

Some packaged food will even say “organic”, “ natural”, or “no artificial ingredients” but many people don’t know what the difference is, so they end up buying the wrong products, for their personal dietary needs.


Packaging Term What It Means
  • Free of growth hormones and antibiotics
  • 95% of the ingredients are organic
  • Grown with non synthetic or sewage fertilizers
  • No GMO’s
All Natural
  • No FDA requirements
  • Foods are generally made of natural ingredients but may contain hydrogenated oils, added sugars, flavoring (as long as it’s a natural flavoring), and other non natural ingredients
No Artificial Ingredients
  • Least regulated
  • Food may be made of an even mixture of natural and artificial ingredients, so you’ll have to read the nutrition label carefully


Making Sense Of Nutrition Labels

Although the information is laid out for you in a seemingly organized fashion, making sense of what you’re reading when looking at a nutritional label is not always an easy task. Many people don’t consume enough iron, calcium, fiber, or vitamins A and C, despite the fact that they are always included on the nutritional labels. Here are the main characteristics you should look at on a nutritional label and what they mean.


Chart Section What It Tells You
Serving Size
  • How large a serving is usually in both standard and metric measurements
  • How many servings are present
Calorie Information
  • How many calories, and calories from fat are present in a single serving
Daily Value %
  • How much of your daily nutrient requirement is satisfied by a single serving (shown in percentage form)
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet
  • List of nutrients including: fat, sugar, carbohydrates, and protein
  • How many grams of each nutrient are included in a single serving
  • Usually the lower daily value percentages are the healthier options in this section (protein is the exception)
Vitamins & Minerals
  • List of vitamins & minerals that are included in a single serving (Try to consume 100% of your daily value for Vitamin A and C, iron, calcium, and fiber everyday)
  • List of key nutrients paired with how much of each you should consume
  • Usually based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet

The footnote section is the best place to look for clarification if you’re confused about how much of a certain nutrient you should be consuming in any given day.There are also some commonly printed phrases printed on nutrition labels and packaged food containersthat be confusing if you don’t know what they mean. These are phrases that you should become familiar with so that you better understand what it is that you’re purchasing and eating. Here are a few of the most popularly printed phrases and what they really mean:



Phrase What It Really Means
No Fat/Fat Free May contain some fat, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Lower or Reduced Fat Will contain at least 25% less fat per serving than the original food item
Low Fat Will contain less than 3 grams of fat per serving
Lite Will contain either ⅓ of the calories or ½ of the fat that would be found in the original food item
No Calories/Calorie Free May contain calories, as long as it’s less that 5 calories per serving
Low Calories Will contain no more than 50% of the calories per serving than the original food item
Sugar Free May contain some sugar, as long as it’s less that ½ gram per serving
Reduced Sugar Will contain at least 25% less sugar per serving than the original food item
No Preservatives Will not contain any preservatives (natural or chemical)
No Preservatives Added Will not contain chemically added preservatives.
Low Sodium Will contain less than 140 mgs of sodium per serving
No Salt/Salt Free May contain salt, as long as it’s less than 5 mgs of sodium per serving
High Fiber Will contain at least 5 grams of fiber (or more) per serving
Good Source of Fiber Will contain 2.5 grams to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving
More/Added Fiber Will contain at least 2.5 grams more fiber per serving than the original food item
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