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Learning how to read food labels

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Learning to read food labels is the best way to educate yourself on what ingredients make up the product you may be buying. It can help you compare the nutritional value between products and help you make informed choices about the food you are buying.

Here are some terms you will find on a nutritional fact label:

Calories:  Calories are a measure of energy use. In general, no more than 30% of your calories should come from fat.

% Daily Value: This shows the recommended amounts per serving based on a 2,000 calorie diet.

Fat: This lists the total amount of fat in one serving. Try to limit the amount of saturated fat and trans fat you eat.

Cholesterol:  Try to consume less than 300mg of cholesterol content each day.

Sodium:  Your daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,400mg.

Carbohydrates: Food products made of carbohydrates help give you energy.

Fibre: Try to consume 20 to 35g of fibre per day.

Protein: Protein-based products are useful for building muscles.

Recommended Amounts: Recommended daily amounts for each nutrient are based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet. No matter how many calories you eat, the recommended amount of sodium and cholesterol stays the same.

When you know what the numbers mean on the nutrition fact panel, you will be able to discern what nutrients the product has and what it is lacking. This way, you can adjust your daily diet to ensure you get all the nutrients you need.

How can you modify a packet of instant cheese pasta? You can start by adding low-fat or skim milk, which contains vitamin D and little to no fat, instead of full fat milk. Besides that, you can add grated cheddar or low-fat cream cheese in place of butter or margarine. Then, go for a handful of diced pepper and carrots, or any other types of vegetables for your dose of vitamin A, C and fibre. When the pasta is almost cooked, add in a tin of drained tuna for some protein and vitamin B. What could have been a high fat, high calorie meal has turned into a low-fat tuna pasta meal that fortified with a lot more nutrition than the original recipe provided!

Make it a habit to read the nutrition fact labels from now on, and you will be surprised at how much sugar or sodium are in the products you buy frequently. Even seemingly healthy cereal or breakfast bars can contain high levels of sugar and fat. Reading the labels can help you maintain your weight in the healthy range by allowing you to change your diet and avoid tempting but high fat or sugar content foods.

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