#FatblasterFriday | Reading nutrition labels for fat loss

In a perfect world, reading nutrition labels would be an unnecessary skill. We’d have unlimited time and resources to grow, raise, purchase and prepare whole, unprocessed foods for ourselves and our families. Foods that don’t require nutrition labels or ingredient lists.

reading nutrition labels for fat loss

In reality, time and money are sometimes short and prepackaged products occasionally end up coming home from the grocery store with us.

While processed foods are typically not the best choices for weight or fat loss, you can minimize their damage on your diet by learning a few tips for reading nutrition labels!

Reading nutrition labels for fat loss

1. Don’t just look at calories. Pay attention to serving size as well. Integrating the two will give you a sense of how calorically dense a product is. When the ratio of calories to serving size is large (i.e., a lot of calories for only a bite or two), you may find yourself eating a larger portion, and hence more calories, than you planned on.

reading nutrition labels for fat loss

2. Scan for added sugar. Have a look at the total grams of sugar per serving. Regardless of where it comes from, sugar has an impact on your blood sugar levels and consequently, the hormones that regulate fat storage. Don’t stop at the nutrition label. Check the ingredient list for other forms of sugar and fake sugars, including (but not limited to) glucose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, cane sugar, beet sugar, sucralose, aspartame, liquid and alcohol sugars, brown sugar and molasses. How many can you find in the ingredient list below? Need some extra tips for reducing your sugar consumption?)

reading nutrition labels for fat loss

3. Feel fuller with fiber. Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in fiber. While whole grain products are fiber rich, they’re also quite high in sugar, thereby blunting the insulin response and encouraging fat storage. I aim for a minimum of 30 g of dietary fiber each and every day.

4. Take a pass on the salt.  Sodium causes the body to retain excess water and interrupts nervous system function, thereby reducing the body’s ability to shed fat. It’s also implicated in heart disease and stroke. Look for products that have less than 200 mg per serving. Resist the temptation to add an extra dash or two at dinner.

reading nutrition labels for fat loss

5. Don’t assume that low fat is better. For many years, dietary fat was thought to be the primary contributor to obesity. As a result, many food manufacturers rushed to create ‘low fat’, ‘fat free’ and ‘lite’ versions of their products. However, in order for those products to remain palatable to consumers (fat is what gives much of food it’s taste), extra sugars (real and fake) were added to the formula. Turns out that dietary fat actually aids in weight loss, in particular when the fats consumed are monounsaturated (for example avocado, macadamia and hazelnuts, olive oil). Be wary of trading fat for sugar when selecting lower fat options…

6. Unpronounceable ingredients? Leave it on the shelf! All of my children learned this tip around the time they learned to read. Grocery shopping trips became so much easier when all I had to say when asked the question “Can we buy this?” was “Can you read me the ingredient list?” They knew that if it was unpronounceable them, we’d be leaving it on the shelf! (Of course, now that they’re older and become avid readers, this tip doesn’t work quite as well…)

Do you regularly read nutrition labels?

What are some things you look for when deciding whether to purchase prepackaged foods?

Disclaimer: I am a Certified Personal Trainer not a Registered Dietician or Nutritionist. The tips above are merely suggestions that I use myself and share with interested clients. For an individualized meal plan that addresses YOUR dietary needs and goals, please see a nutrition professional.



  1. I’m an avid label reader and I’ve taught my kids to do the same for a few specific ingredients.
    Jill @ Fitness, Health and Happiness recently posted…Fitness Friday || Devou Park Trail Run RecapMy Profile

    • It’s never to early to teach them Jill! My daughter is in grade 5 and they’re doing a unit on nutrition label reading. Now every time she looks at a package, she’s reporting the calorie count. I’m working hard to get to not to focus on that, as much as sugar and salt (and calorie bang for your buck!)

  2. I’ll add one beyond serving size that I believe is equally important; servings per container. This one is all about context. Example: I believe a pint of ice cream might be like 4-6 servings per container. Most though, see pint as a single serving….

    • Awesome! Yes, so important! Thank goodness I’ve given up ice cream, or I’d be pretty upset with you pointing that out to me…

  3. I am thinking a half gallon of ice cream is a single serving…..what??? Something wrong with that?!

    hahahaha! 😉
    Kathy recently posted…Taking a little breakMy Profile

    • Kathy! Nope, not even a pint… somebody read their ice cream label for me and tell me the serving size!

  4. GREAT points – just did a talk on this for a Brownie Girl Scout troop a few weeks ago – 3rd grade is NOT too young to start reading labels and thinking about healthful eating. Was also going to make the point about servings per container – the kids were astounded that a moderately-sized bag of chips was actually 2.5 servings, or that a portable cup-of-soup was actually 2 servings . . . so double up + that fat/sodium/etc. When I talk to groups about this stuff, I really like to stress that we should be seeking out more food WITHOUT labels! Shop that periphery, friends!
    Sarah @ Semi-Sweet recently posted…A Loss (and Leftover Turkey Soup with Lemon, Barley & Kale)My Profile

    • For sure! When my kids were little I just HATED grocery shopping. Even sticking to the peripheral aisles wasn’t safe, as the grocery stores load the end of each row with unhealthy crap (just in case you’re trying to avoid buying it…)

  5. I do read labels. And you’re right, trying to identify all the different sugar names can be tricky. That stuff is even hidden in bread and other items people don’t often suspect. And of course, if all else fails, limit the shopping from the center aisles–stick to the periphery of the grocery store where more of the healthy items lie.
    Carrie Rubin recently posted…Reflections Of A Woman At A Magic ConventionMy Profile

  6. Stephanie Robbins says:

    Great list! Also be wary of ‘health foods’ ‘gluten free’ and organic. Many times these are high in sugar and fat which is not good for you. Can’t tell you how many times people think it is healthy just because it is organic.

    • Truth! Most of the time ‘gluten free’ means ‘full of other empty calories’. My kids were trying to get me to buy ‘organic cheetos’, because clearly, they’re healthier than the regular ones…

  7. I AM SUCH A LABEL READER!!!! Drives hubby crazy! 😉 I reread things I already bought before because I have found they change things in the ingredients & you don’t know unless you read the label!!!

    Yes, on what Roy said – servings per container cause so many assume it is one & that is not a good thing when many are not just 1 serving per container.. that one drives me crazy! – crazier than I already am.. 😉

    Nowadays, there are so many chemicals & bad things hidden under different names that it can become overwhelming..

    Great post!
    Jody – Fit at 55 recently posted…1 Move for Core, Chest, Triceps, Balance & more!My Profile

    • Ha! And I re-read labels because I forget what I read the first time…
      Recently I just discovered that in Canada, we call HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) fructose-glucose! Now I’ve always knows that FG wasn’t a great ingredient, but I’m sure I’ve purchased things containing it because the true name was hidden…

  8. I’m horrible and don’t read that many labels! I just try to make sure we get lots of protein, fruits & veggies!
    And (since I’ve already shared a big fault!), I rarely try to get the sodium free version of stuff – I don’t salt food when I cook so I figure that on occasion we need that salt. (Maybe that’s just how I make myself feel better about it but I know our bodies do need some of the salt replaced that we sweat out – and I sweat a lot when I work-out!!)
    Kim recently posted…50-mile race, Firm in February, 5th graders & Fun Friday!!!My Profile

    • Well, salt is one of those things that our brains are hard-wired to want because our long ago ancestors couldn’t get enough. I think as long as you’re watching your total intake you should be fine. (But read the labels and stay informed 😉 )

  9. As consumers get more savvy, some food companies get trickier. As Jody says, labels change as manufacturers change serving sizes, for example, to get calorie count down. Lots of common sense advice here!
    KymberlyFunFit recently posted…Defining Organic and SustainableMy Profile

    • You and Jody are very clever. It really is an arms race to keep ahead of manufacturers and advertisements. I think the government needs to play a bigger role in regulation of health-related products. Bet that comment makes someone, somewhere mad…

  10. I’m happy that my young adults now read labels for themselves when they shop! I avoid hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors, even ‘natural flavor’ unless I’ve specifically found out what that flavor is. I also try to avoid the many forms of MSG.
    Mary @ Fit and Fed recently posted…Vegan goat cheeseMy Profile

    • Good addition Mary. MSG is bad for us on so many levels. Natural herbs and spices are great for adding more flavour to your food!

  11. Just wanted you to know I tried the arc trainer today and no pain! I loved it! I actually ran faster this week and managed to do more weight in my weight lifting b/c no Monday/ Tuesday knee pain after a Saturday spin class!
    Blond duck recently posted…Friday FiveMy Profile

    • So good to hear! Too bad they don’t pay me a commission for every person I turn on to the ARC 😉

  12. I tend to read the labels, as I want to make an informed decision about purchasing whatever it is. And your point about serving size is so important! I’ve done the math before, and the portion that a person would PROBABLY eat will turn out to be hundreds of kcals, not the tiny amount that’s listed.
    AlexandraFunFit recently posted…Defining Organic and SustainableMy Profile

  13. That perfect world sounds awesome! #6 is a brilliant one, the idea rings a bell, but I’ve never actually used it, but that’s about to change!

    Personally if I’m after something simple, and the ingredients list looks like a poorly written English essay, I’ll think twice and try to see if there’s a better option, but I have no rules of thumb or other general guidelines that I follow. But you’ve just given me a few, thanks Tamara!
    Nick Goodall recently posted…Dealing With The DevilMy Profile

  14. Well written. Thank a lot for posting that. I’ll definitely return again to see what’s new and inform my neighbors about your site.

  15. Excuse for that I interfere … To me this situation is familiar. it is possible to discuss, Write here or in PM. orthomol sport Gaspari nutrition


  1. […] yourself about nutrition. Read product labels. As painful as it may be, take your children grocery shopping with you. Teach them to read the […]

  2. […] 3. Read all labels and ruthlessly discard items with high sugar, salt and trans fats. This will mean most processed foods including crackers, granola bars, cereals and cookies. It may also mean jars of spaghetti sauce, apple sauce, fruit (if packed in in syrup rather than water), dried fruit with sugar added and flavoured or salted nuts. If you think you need to keep a small amount around (for baking special desserts or entertaining company), make sure to place it out of your line of sight. Get rid of all trigger foods (those foods that you can’t even have a little bit of without eating the whole bag, box or bar). If you’re brand new at reading nutrition labels and ingredients list, have a look at this post. […]