Why the heck would you want to read food labels?  Snooze alert… LOL  But reading food labels is an important part of the weight loss journey.  I recommend eating as many whole foods as you can.


I recommend this because I have lost 100 pounds 3 times!

It wasn’t until the third time when I chose whole foods that I was actually able to maintain that loss!

But it’s still important to be able to read food labels   And there is a lot to learn. So we are going to break this into 2 parts.

This week we will look at the basics…

Those processed foods and harmful ingredients to watch for that are probably stalling your 100 pound weight loss in ways you don’t even know about.

You will also understand calories and serving sizes, and sodium recommendations…

Next week we will dive into the basics of fats, carbs, protein and the other micronutrients your body needs.  

Let’s get going…


Don’t know where to start?

If your new here, and you don’t know where to start on your journey? I lost 120 lbs and I have kept it off for 5 years.  These blog articles are the starting place for a journey that will be maintainable.  Check out these blogs to help you start rocking your weight loss journey.

And while your here, you should definitely join my FREE 5 day challenge to Jump Start your 100 Pound Weight Loss

Reading Food Labels & Processed Food

Food Label Ingredients

There are a few things you should know about reading food labels and processed foods, so let’s start with…

  1. All processed foods are required to have a food label, but whole foods do not have this requirement
  2. Processed foods are designed to be highly addictive. (3rd serving anyone?)
  3. They are high calorie and low nutritional value.  
  4. Eating a lot of processed foods, may leave you feeling constantly hungry and unsatisfied and lead to roller coaster binge eating.

Processed foods are designed to be tasty and make you want more… so if you are having issues with serving size and  your hungry all the time. Translation, you just plan hangry,  this may be something you need to consider.

Another thing about processed foods is that they are chock full of harmful chemicals, added sugars and sodium.  These additives, add to your waistline..

So in the section of the food label where you see the ingredients you should watch for any of the following harmful food additives, provided by ACE fitness:

AHarmful Food Additives

Here’s the list of top 10 additives to watch out for:  

#1: High fructose corn syrup

#2: Aspartame

#3: Hydrolyzed protein

#4: Autolyzed yeast

#5: Monosodium glutamate

#6: Potassium bromate

#7: BHA and BHT

#9: Trans fat

#10: Artificial colors


Each of these items increase your waistline, and they can be cancer causing.  As my health journey started after I lost my father to cancer, I really watched for this.  

5 years later I have now lost my mother to cancer.  Because of this I have become a real stickler when it comes to harmful ingredients…

Watch the Aspartame… all those low calorie diet foods that have aspartame could actually be harming your weight loss journey instead of helping it.  Aspartame made me hungrier…

These items could be a blog post all by themselves, but I don’t want to bore anyone while I geek out… if you want more information let me know and I will gladly comply.

The Order Of Listed Ingredients

You should know that there is a purpose to the order of the listed ingredients while reading food labels.

When you look at the ingredients the items are listed in order of largest used ingredient to smallest.

When working on a healthy lifestyle you want to try to eat foods that have either don’t list sugar at all (I don’t think I have found one yet!), or it should be #5 or later in the list.

As a side note, the more of the ingredients you can pronounce the better.  LOL

For now let’s head to calories and serving size…


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Reading Food Labels:  Calories/Serving Size

Serving Size

Food Label Calories & Serving Size

Let’s start at the top of when reading the food label… The top area of the food label has the Calories and Serving Size.  It’s important to watch out for the gotcha…

What you may think is the serving size is not what the manufacturer had in mind!  

Keep in mind a ½ cup is about a cupped palm full… not 3 handfuls.

One of the biggest issues I had was stopping after the serving size.  I found that the high calories in the boxed and instant meals left me starving all the time.

Pay careful attention to serving size!  Not to sound like a broken record, but this is really key to losing weight. Often what we consider an individual serving size is not what the manufacturer believes is a serving size.  

There are visual guide’s like the one shared here for nutrient dense food… but when dealing with processed food this flies out the window.  I have a great guide for determining portion sizes using your hand.

Grab Your Hand Sized Portion Guide Here!

The big takeaway for this section is to pay close attention to how many calories there are in the recommended serving size.  

It always amazes me when I pick up a relatively small item at the store and it says 4 servings to the tune of 400 calories each.

There was a time when I would eat the entire item leading me to consume 1600 calories in one sitting….

So with this in mind, let’s look at a breakdown calories.


I think it’s important to understand what makes a high calorie, moderate calorie and low calorie item, so let’s take a look at that!

High Calories is anything greater than 400 calories. Considering a nutrient dense meal can be consumed at between 350-600 calories.  A single item with 400 calories is high calories

Moderate calories is 100.  This is a snack sized portion.  One item to consider is that 10 oz of watermelon is 85 calories.  Compare that to a 100 calories snack pack…

Low calories is an item with 40 calories.

This breakdown may shine some light on why it’s hard to lose weight.  When 1 tablespoon of yummy peanut butter is 190 calories, but 10 0z of watermelon is 85 calories.  It shows why whole foods will fill you up and keep your calories in the moderate range.

Another key to this whole label thing is sodium, so let’s take a look at that next!

Reading Food Labels: Sodium


Food Label Sodium

When reading the food label, what does this sodium line actually tell you? And why is it important?

The downfall to sodium is that it causes your body to hold on to water.  Our body does need some sodium, it is actually key to many biological processes in the body.  But too much sodium can be deadly.

To explain why, sodium pulls water from your body and puts it in your bloodstream increasing blood volume and thereby blood pressure.

Which is not good for someone that already has high blood pressure…

Check out this article from the American Heart Association for even more geeky info…

Sodium Guidelines

For healthy individuals 2300-3000 mg of sodium is acceptable.  

I personally keep my sodium most days around 2300 mg.  But occasionally my cheese stick addiction takes me over this mark… hahah

One area of note is that canned vegetables can be very high in sodium.  Look for no salt added varieties. To keep the sodium low…

Now for special populations the USDA has a special recommendation, and just so I don’t screw it up I have quoted it below:

Specifically, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to choose more nutrient-dense foods and to significantly cut the amount of sodium in their diets, especially if certain factors put them at greater health risk. This includes individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, of African-American descent, or anyone over the age of 51. These individuals are advised to limit their daily sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg (a typical adult consumes more than double that amount each day) https://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1192/changing-nutritional-guidelines-leave-many/

A special item to note, is a food with less than 140 mg of sodium is considered low sodium.  So on your search to understand this food label dilema watching out for foods with greater than 140 mg of sodium will help keep you healthy!

So Let’s Wrap This Up….

Today we looked at the Food Label sections that include the ingredients, Calories and Serving Size as well as sodium content.  Each of these although a little dry are important when it comes to losing weight and more importantly to being healthy!

The key takeaways are watch for the key harmful ingredients!  Pay attention to serving size and calorie guidelines. And finally if you are basically healthy keep your sodium around 2300 mg.  If you have major health concerns then stick with 1500 mg.

Next Steps:


  1. Read labels!
  2. Watch for harmful ingredients
  3. Keep snacks between 40 & 250 calories(depends on how many calories you need daily)
  4. Keep meal total’s between 400-600 calories.
  5. Watch the serving sizes
  6. If your basically healthy 2300 mg of sodium per day is a good goal to shoot for
  7. If you have health issues shoot for 1500 mg of sodium per day
  8. Remember sodium adds up, so shoot for foods with less than 140 mg of sodium and track your sodium intake.


  • https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/fda-s-new-food-labels-will-be-little-bigger-n577481
  • https://www.fda.gov/food/nutrition-education-resources-and-materials/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label
  • https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3319/what-you-need-to-know-about-reading-nutrition-labels
  • https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3188/read-your-labels-10-harmful-food-additives-to-avoid

Coach Michelle

Ace Certified Health Coach, Precision Nutrition PN1 Coach, Fit Chicks Certified Fitness, Nutrition & Wellness Expert

Simple Weight Loss Over 40, MacrosHey You Amazing Lady! 

Let me help you reach your healthy lifestyle goals. I've lost 120 pounds and maintained it for 8 years, and helped countless others reach their goal too. I'm an ACE Certified Health Coach, a certified Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach and a Certified Wellness, Nutrition and Fitness Coach for people who want to reach ONEderland (below 199 on the scale) and stay there, I coach you and give you the tools to change your nutrition and movement habits and change you life forever.

Through my passionate and open hearted Online Wellness classes, Digital products, and a Simply Healthy Accountability membership. I'm here to inspire you to change your approach to weight loss and wellness—while making it all feel like a natural part of who you are.

And when I'm not coaching you can find me walking with my teens, hanging with my hubby, or playing with my dogs (all four of them).


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Reading Food Labels to Lose 100 Pounds-Part 1