Decoding Fat and Calories on a Nutrition Label

Reading nutritional labels and understanding what they mean can be confusing and time consuming. It takes a little extra time, but once you've figured out which foods fit your needs, decoding nutrition labels is a breeze.

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Nutritional information can be found on most forms of processed food. The black and white "Nutrition Facts" panel on packaged foods lists total calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and more. Labels such as "trans-fat-free," and "fat-free" tout health benefits, but aren't always the best food choices. Here's a little guidance to help you decode fat and calories on a nutrition label with ease.

Nutrition Facts

The first thing to note on the Nutrition Facts panel is the serving size. High-calorie foods are commonly divided into smaller serving sizes so the calorie count will look low at a glance. Individual sized potato chip bags are a perfect example. They look like one serving, but are usually two.

Trans-Fat-Free Foods

Trans fatty acids are generated during processing, and ingesting them can lead to a variety of health problems. But, that doesn't necessarily mean a food is good for you just because it's trans-fat-free. Foods such as doughnuts and sweet rolls may tout "zero trans fat" but they are low in nutrients and fiber, even when made with healthier oils.

MoreUnhealthy Trans Fats Still in Many Foods

Fat-Free Foods

Processed foods that are fat-free can be very high in calories and sugar content and low in nutrients, such as fat-free cookies, sweets, desserts and other snack foods. Choose natural fat-free foods like vegetables, fruits, fish and other seafood, whole-grain products (whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta and rice), nuts, beans, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.

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Zero Trans Fat Doesn't Mean No Trans Fat

The FDA regulations require trans fat label values to be zero if the fat contained is less than 0.5 grams per serving. When a product contains partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, but the Nutrition Facts label lists "0 grams trans fat," it means the product contains less than 0.5 grams of partially hydrogenated vegetable oil per serving.   

The convenience of ready-made meals is alluring in today's fast-paced society. Reading Nutritional Facts panels may take a little extra time, but those minutes can save you pounds over the course of a year.

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About the Author

Judi Sheppard Missett

Judi Sheppard Missett, who turned her love of jazz dance into a worldwide dance exercise phenomenon, founded the Jazzercise dance fitness program in 1969. Today the program boasts more than 7,800 instructors teaching more than 32,000 classes weekly in all 50 states and 32 countries. The workout program, which offers a fusion of jazz dance, resistance training, Pilates, yoga and cardio box movements, has positively affected millions of people. Benefits include increased cardiovascular endurance, strength and flexibility, as well as an overall "feel good" factor.  For more information go to or call (800) FIT-IS-IT.

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