How to Read a Nutrition Label

Reading a nutrition label correctly is a very important step in helping you make informed decisions to choose a nutritious diet, yet it can get very confusing if you’re not sure what you’re looking at. It is essential to learn what the numbers and percentages mean, especially after bariatric surgery as you learn to include high protein, low carb and nutrient dense food into your diet plan. This guide will help you understand the basics of reading a nutrition label. 

Why It’s Important After Bariatric Surgery

After weight loss surgery, changes to the kinds of food you eat and to your eating habits are vital. By understanding the nutrition facts in your food, you essentially turn the nutrition label on packaged foods into a no-fail way to make healthy food choices. This label also helps to make sure that you are eating the right amount of nutrient dense food after your bariatric surgery. This helps you avoid malnutrition, which is a possible side effect after the surgery.

Serving Information

The first thing to read on a nutrition label is the serving information. This will tell you how many servings are in a package and how big that serving size is. Each nutrient amount on the label is based on this serving information. If a serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you consume two servings, doubling the calories, nutrients and percent of daily values. 

Percent Daily Value (%DV)

The percent daily value shows you the percentage of the daily value for each nutrient in a single serving. These percentages provide a reference amount for the nutrients you should or should not surpass in a day. They show you if a serving is low or high in a particular nutrient as well as how much particular nutrients contribute to a total daily diet. 

  • Low = 5% DV or less of a nutrient
  • High = 20% DV or more of a nutrient

Two things to consider when choosing food:

  • Foods that are higher in Percent Daily Value for Potassium, calcium, Iron, Vitamin D and Dietary Fiber
  • Foods that are lower in Percent daily Value for Added Sugars, Saturated Fat and Sodium


Protein is the most essential macronutrient to ingest after bariatric surgery, so look at this number on the nutrition label after you have calculated your serving size and the servings in the container. The recommended daily intake of protein is 60-80 grams per day. This puts you at consuming 20-30 grams at each meal and 10-15 grams per snack (at two snacks per day).


Depending on how active you are and where you are in your weight loss surgery journey, your carbohydrate intake will vary. For the first six months, 40 grams of carbs per day from non-starchy vegetables is recommended. After your initial six months, your carb intake increases because you can then incorporate whole wheat starches, high fiber and fruits. For more information on carbohydrates after weight loss surgery, check out our blog here. (Link to new blog Carbs After Weight Loss Surgery.)


Fat makes many people wary. However, the only fat you need to avoid is trans fat. Trans fat is harder to burn off because it actually “sticks” to your body. It is added to products like cookies, fried foods, cakes and margarine to help increase its shelf life.

Guidelines from the FDA allows food manufacturers to label trans fat as zero if the product contains less than 0.5 grams per serving. When reading a nutrition label and you see that it has no trans fat but you eat three servings, chances are that you will be consuming trans fat. While this is an insignificant amount, you need to be aware of it.

Saturated fat is the other fat listed on a nutrition label. It is found in products like butter, animal products and coconut oil. While it is not as bad as trans fat, it still isn’t great. Because it can cause high cholesterol and heart disease, it is best to limit your saturated fat intake to 3-4 grams per serving.

Fat is needed for satiation and for hormonal reasons. At one-year post weight loss surgery, your target fat consumption average should be 50-60 grams. Make sure to choose healthy options like salmon, olive oil and avocado.


The calories listed on a nutrition label show the energy you will get from consuming one serving. In order to lose weight or to maintain a healthy body weight, you must balance the number of calories you get from food and drink in a day with the number of calories your body uses. Nutrition labels use 2,000 calories as a generic guide for the average American. A bariatric patient and people looking to lose weight will need less. Please use your diet advancement sheets provided by your surgeon’s office as a reference for your recommended macros and calories. Writer’s Note: Is the linked article the blog you’re referencing?

For more information on how to read a nutrition label, check out the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.

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