Have a question for our experts? This line is open until Friday, October 22nd. Nan will then answer a few questions and we’ll post her answers right here and on the forums.

Nan AllisonQ: Amount of servings per container varies on each food label and is misleading. I thought this was going to be standardized?


A: The serving sizes are standardardized. However, when something like cheese is randomly cut off of a block, and then re-wrapped, the number of servings per package will vary….so you will have to look the serving size and then look at the total amount of ounces, grams or volume labeled and then divide that by the ounces, grams or volume stated for the serving size. For instance: if a block of cheese says a serving is one ounce, and there are 0.5 lbs (you have to know that 1/2 pound is 8 ounces) then you would divide 8 oz. by 1 oz to get the total servings per block of cheese — which is 8 servings.

Q: I read all food labels to avoid high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Is there a safe level of these additives?


A: There are no established safe levels of high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated oils. However, it has been establshed that the total amount of sugars in a healthy diet should be no more than 10% of your total dalily calorie needs. So if you burn 2000 calories a day, your limit of all sugars (natural and added) should be about 100 calories (25 grams of sugar, since there are 4 calories per gram of sugar).

Most health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat (which is generally partially hydrgenated fat) and cholesterol as low as possible. They have not established what amount would be harmful..just that it is best if you don’t get it.

Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

Q: I am diabetic and recently received some jelly – no sugar added – The label says ingredients: blackberries, white grape juice concentrate, pectin and citric acid. Nutrition Facts says:per 1 Tablespoon 3g carbohydrates and 1 g sugar. Can that be? I hesitate to eat it.


A: The 1 gram of sugar is likely to be the natural fruit sugar that is in the blackberries and also the grape juice concentrate. The other carbohydrates are from the blackberries and the pectin.

Q: How much sugar intake should we ingest? In other words, what should we look for on the label related to sugar?


A: We should limit the total amount of sugars in a healthy diet should be no more than 10% of your total dalily calorie needs. So if you burn 2000 calories a day, your limit of all sugars (natural and added) should be about 100 calories (25 grams of sugar, since there are 4 calories per gram of sugar).

Q: Why does a food with “no sugar added” show grams of sugars on the label?


A: Fruits, vegetables, milk, grains, and dried beans have naturally occurring sugars. “Sugars” in the Nutrition Facts include both added and naturally occurring sugars. To find out about added sugars, check the ingredient list.

Q: Does “natural” equal “organic?”


A: No, the terms natural and organic are not equal. You may see other terms on food labels, such as all-natural, free-range or hormone-free, but don’t confuse them with the term “organic.” Only foods that are grown and processed according to USDA organic standards can be labeled “organic.”


  • 100% Organic – Every ingredient in the food is certified organic.
  • Organic – At least ninety-five percent of the ingredients are certified organic.
  • Made with organic ingredients – The food contains at least 70 percent organic ingredients, and manufacturers can list of up to three organic ingredients on the label.
    Q: What Does “Natural” Mean When it Appears on a Food Label?


    A: No formal definition for the use of “natural” on food labels has been issued by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, “natural” claims have become common on new foods and beverages. So foods with sugar (beet, cane, turbinado, brown and others) any butter, salt, oils, even (FDA) follows a 1993 policy that states:

    “[FDA] has not objected to the use of the term on food labels provided it is used in a manner that is truthful and not misleading and the product does not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Use of the term “natural” is not permitted in a product’s ingredient list, with the exception of the phrase “natural flavorings.”

    USDA is currently defining the conditions under which it will permit “natural” to be used in meat and poultry product labeling, but a final rule may not appear until late 2010.

    Q: What’s the most important thing to know when reading a label?


    A: Each person has different health concerns and interests. So the information a person looks for may vary according to their needs. It is important to distinguish between information on the label which is a claim and which is a fact. The nutrition panel and ingredient labels contain facts, rather than health claims. For example, a statement on a food package that says “low in cholesterol” is not a fact, it is a claim, which may or may not be based on fact. However, the amount milligrams of cholesterol listed in the nutrition facts panel is a fact.

    Here a some ways to make the best use of the Nutrition Facts Panel:
    Shop Smart — Get the Facts on Food Labels
    Become a smart shopper by reading food labels to find out more about the foods you eat. The Nutrition Facts panel found on most food labels will help you:
    • Find out which foods are good sources of fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin C
    • Compare similar foods to find out which one is lower in fat and calories
    • Search for low-sodium foods
    • Look for foods that are low in saturated fat and trans fats

    A Quick Guide to Reading the Nutrition Facts Label

    Start with the Serving Size
    • Look here for both the serving size (the amount for one serving), and the number of servings in the package.
    • Remember to check your portion size to the serving size listed on the label. If the label serving size is one cup, and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.

    Check Out the Total Calories and Fat
    Find out how many calories are in a single serving and the number of calories from fat. It’s smart to cut back on calories and fat if you are watching your weight!

    Let the Percent Daily Values Be Your Guide
    Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help you evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan:
    • Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5% DV means 5% of the amount of fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day would eat.
    • Remember: percent DV are for the entire day — not just for one meal or snack.
    • You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100% DV.

    The High and Low of Daily Values
    • 5 percent or less is low — try to aim low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium
    • 20 percent or more is high — try to aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber