food labels weight loss

How To Read Nutrition Labels For Weight Loss

Nutrition labels are usually shown on the back or side of packages as a panel or grid and are important to understand for weight loss. Energy (kJ/kcal), fat, starch, fibre, sugars, protein, and salt are all included.

Nutrition labels for weight loss are important so you can make better-informed decisions on what you eat to intake fewer calories than you are using per day and hence, lose fat.

Additionally, many of these so-called healthy foods and drinks found on supermarket shelves are often packed with calories, which could be limiting your weight loss attempts. Therefore, checking these nutrition labels for weight loss is the only way to make sure we are not taking one step forward but two steps back.

As weight-loss experts here at Plato Weight Management, we understand from assisting hundreds of clients through our online weight management program that nutrition labels for weight loss can be very complex. This complexity makes it harder for shoppers to understand them, leading to less than optimal dietary choices.

As a result, we have set out today to explain nutrition labels for weight loss once and for all.

We’ll discuss:

  • Calculating your maintenance caloric intake
  • Calculating your diet calories
  • Serving size
  • Fat
  • Cholesterol
  • Sodium
  • Carbs
  • Dietary fibre
  • Sugar
  • Protein

Calculating your maintenance caloric intake

To calculate the weight loss calories per day, you first need to find out how many calories you need to consume per day to maintain your current weight, also known as your “maintenance caloric intake“, which we will be referring to as MCI.

To do this, there are two steps involved. First, we need to find your basal metabolic rate, which is BMR for short.

Your BMR is the number of calories your body needs per day to accomplish it’s most basic life-sustaining functions such as breathing, circulation, nutrient processing and cell production.

We can do this by using the Mifflin-st Jeor equation (Mifflin et al.,1990).

For men, it is:

10 X weight(kg) + 6.25 X height (cm) – 5 X age (y) – 5

While for women, it is:

10 X weight(kg) + 6.25 X height (cm) – 5 X age (y) – 161

Subsequently, after doing the equation, we will now have your BMR. Keep in mind that you should adjust this equation as you lose weight as it takes your weight into consideration. Therefore, I recommend after every 5 kilos lost to redo the equation entering your new weight in kilos in place of the old to provide you with a more accurate view of your MCI over the long term.

Now the second step involves us taking your BMR and multiplying it by your activity level per week.

Nutrition labels weight loss

Sedentary (little or no exercise)= 1.2

Lightly active (light exercise 1-3 days per week= 1.375

Moderately active (moderate exercise 3-5 days per week)=1.55

Very active (intense exercise 6-7 days per week)= 1.725

Extra active (very hard exercise= a physical job or twice a day training)= 1.9

For instance, if you do not currently do any exercise and consequently fall under sedentary, we will take your BMR and multiply it by 1.2. The answer will provide us with the number of calories that you need to consume each day to not gain or lose weight, again referred to as your maintenance caloric intake.

To read our blog about why fat-shaming is not effective for weight loss, please follow the link here.

Calculating your diet calories

Nutrition labels weight loss

Now that finding out your MCI is out of the way, we will next subtract 500 calories from this value, and it will present us with the initial amount of calories to consume each day to lose weight. 

Once you get into the routine of consuming 500 calories less than your MCI per day, you can reduce this to 600 and then over a few more weeks 700 calories below your MCI.

However, I would not recommend going further than that as it will result in you feeling very tired and hungry throughout the day and is not feasible over the long term, not to mention being unhealthy.

For instance, for a person who calculates their MCI to be 2000 calories per day, they will simply take 500 away from 2000, which would mean they should consume 1500 calories per day while dieting.

Now that we know how to calculate the number of calories we should be consuming while dieting, we can look at a nutrition label. Be aware that nutrition label designs can vary between one another.

To read our blog about how to diet for workouts and weight loss, please follow the link here.

However, this example should give you enough information to understand each!

Serving size

Nutrition labels weight loss

One aspect of the label you’ll be familiar with seeing is the serving size. This is important when dieting as all of the nutrition information (so calories, carbs, fat, protein etc.) corresponds to that specific serving size, whether it be one item, like a doughnut, or several items like five biscuits.

It’s also important to note that If you’re eating more than the manufacturer recommends as a serving size, you need to multiply the nutrition information by the amount you’re eating.

For instance, if the nutritional label says on the back of a muffin that each serving is 150 calories, we need to make sure that one serving size is for the whole muffin rather than half of the muffin or else we would actually consume 300 calories!

Be aware that we will not be discussing micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals in this blog post as we will be dedicating an article specifically for them.


As the basic aspects of the nutrition label for weight loss have now been explained, we can discuss the nutritional component, beginning with total fat.

Total fat can be categorized into two subgroups, good and bad fat. The good fats being the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, while the bad fats are trans and saturated fats!

It’s noteworthy that these aren’t called good and bad fat because good fat contains fewer calories than bad fat, as every gram of fat, whether good or bad, contains nine calories. Conversely, they are called good and bad fat due to the positive or negative attributes associated with them.

Nutrition labels weight loss

Good fat, such as avocados and most unsalted nuts, is beneficial as they support metabolism, cell signalling, immunity, hormone production, and absorption of nutrients such as vitamin A or vitamin D.

While bad fats, like steak, butter, cheese, pizza and hamburgers, raise bad cholesterol while lowering good cholesterol.

So how much fat should be included in our weight loss diet?

This should be about 30% of your daily calories.

For the person who is on a weight diet of 1500 calories daily, they would need to multiply 1500 by 0.30 (30%) to find the most calories of fat they should be consuming each day, which would be 450 calories.

And how many grams of fat is that?

Since one gram of fat is nine calories, they would take the advised 450 calories worth of fat daily, divide it by nine, and it will show us the grams of fat they should consume each day which is 50g.

Obviously, guys, we do not want 50g of bad fat. Rather, we want to incorporate as much good fat in that 50 grams as possible!

To read our blog about the difference between good and bad sugar, please follow the link here.


Additionally, let’s talk briefly about cholesterol, but just to note, I have also covered cholesterol more in-depth in another blog post.

Be aware that there is good and bad cholesterol as there is good and bad fat; however, we will be strictly talking about bad cholesterol.

Bad cholesterol is called bad as it can block arteries leading to atherosclerosis which narrows the space available in the artery and consequently increases the risk for heart attacks, stroke and peripheral artery disease.

A recommendation from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting dietary cholesterol consumption to 300 milligrams per day and less than 200 mg if you are at a high risk of heart disease, like having a high BMI, for example.

However, as bad dietary cholesterol is contributed largely by bad fat, you will not need to worry about this so much if your weight loss diet is already limiting this.

To read our blog breaking down cholesterol, please follow the link here.


Nutrition labels weight loss

Moreover, let’s talk about sodium!

When people think of sodium, they automatically think of salt as 40% of salt is sodium. However, it is a common misconception that the salt we have at the dinner table is the biggest sodium contributor to your diet.

In fact, more than 70% of your sodium comes in the form of processed food! Even foods that don’t taste salty can add up as major sources of daily sodium because they are consumed so much.

For example, one slice of bread can contain 80 to 230 milligrams of sodium, and a slice of pizza can contain between 370 and 730 milligrams!

So how much sodium should we have per day? 

Well, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2300 milligrams of sodium per day as part of a healthy diet.

This is important as the vast majority of adults consume more than 3400 mg per day, and eating too much sodium can put you at risk for developing high blood pressure and stroke.


Furthermore, let’s take a look at carbohydrates, the macronutrient we hate to love!

To read our blog breaking down everything you didn’t know about iron deficiency anaemia, please follow the link here.

Contrary to popular belief, carbs are not the enemy, and they do have their place in a weight loss diet as your body uses carbohydrates as the main fuel source for energy. It is going overboard with carbohydrates which is the problem, guys.

So how do we work out how much is too much? 

While in a caloric deficit, when we are intaking fewer calories than our maintenance caloric intake, we want to consume about 40% of our daily calories from carbohydrates.

So if your dieting calories are again 1500, you would multiply this 0.40 (40%), which is 600 calories.

And how many grams of carbs is that? 

Since one gram of carbohydrates is four calories, you would take the 600, divide it four and hence the most amount of carbohydrates you should be consuming each day dieting would be 150 grams.

Easy right?

What’s also important to note is that not all carbs are created equal. Good carbs are complex carbs, sometimes referred to as whole carbs, whereas bad carbs are simple carbs or sometimes referred to as refined carbs.

Complex carbs are good because they are unprocessed, loaded with nutrients and fibre, and don’t cause the same spikes and dips in blood sugar levels, leading to a subsequent crash that triggers cravings for high carb foods. Examples of these carbs include vegetables, whole fruit, legumes, potatoes and whole grains.

On the other hand, the simple carbs are processed, tend to cause major spikes in blood sugar levels, and lack essential nutrients, which is why you always hear them referred to as “empty” calories. Some of these types of food include pastries, white bread, white pasta, white rice and fruit juices

Therefore, we want to obtain the vast majority of our daily carb intake from good carbs guys.

To read our blog breaking down The Vegan Diet, please follow the link here.

Dietary fiber

Dietary Fiber is a term used for plant-based carbohydrates that, unlike other carbohydrates, such as sugars and starch, cannot be broken down by your digestive system as our bodies do not possess the enzymes necessary to break it down.

An advantage of fibre is that as it mixes with the water in your stomach, it acts as a sort of sponge and swells with water. As the food volume expands, it stretches your stomach and the satiety hormone cholecystokinin is released, which signals to your brain, “I’m full”.

In addition, it also slows the rate at which sugar enters your bloodstream so you can maintain a stable energy level after eating. As a result, it helps lower blood sugar levels which means it lowers insulin levels making your body less likely to store fat.

Women should aim for 25 grams of fibre per day while men should aim for 38 grams per day, and you will include these grams within your calculated total amount of carbs per day. 


Next, we have total sugar, which you will also include within your calculated total number of carbs per day. 

Total sugar constitutes sugar that occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables alongside added sugars such as regular table sugar, which is also found in candy and many processed foods like soft drinks and baked products.

Naturally occurring sugars are absolutely fine, but if we want to lose weight and optimize our health, we need to do our best to avoid foods containing added sugar altogether.

To read our blog breaking down the difference between Tennis and Golfer’s elbow, please follow the link here.


And lastly, but definitely not least, we have protein!

So why exactly is protein important for weight loss?

A high protein intake boosts metabolism, reduces appetite, and helps you retain as much muscle as possible while dieting, in combination with some form of resistance training, of course.

To read our blog explaining the health effects of Intermittent Fasting, please follow the link here.

A higher protein intake actually increases satiety levels, so appetite-reducing hormones such as cholecystokinin and peptide YY while reducing the levels of your hunger hormone Ghrelin.

So in a way, guys, this leads to an automatic reduction in caloric intake.

While in a caloric deficit, we want about 30% of our daily calories to come from protein.

So for 1500 diet calories, this would be multiplied by 0.30, equaling 450 calories.

And again, how many grams of protein would that be?

Since there are four calories in a gram of protein, you will take the 450 calories and divide it by four resulting in a recommendation to have around 112 grams of protein each day.


To conclude, understanding nutrition labels for weight loss is an essential component for any successful dieting endeavour. By doing so, you can make better decisions on what goes into your body to enhance your feelings of being full for longer, limit cravings, and make sure you are intaking fewer calories than burning each day to lose the excess weight.

If you are interested in undertaking one of our evidence-based and results-backed Plato Weight Management programs, please make sure to check what program may be suitable for you at this link or contact us here!

You can find out what some of our previous clients had to say about the program on our success stories page!


Mifflin, M. D., St Jeor, S. T., Hill, L. A., Scott, B. J., Daugherty, S. A., & Koh, Y. O. (1990). A new predictive equation for resting energy expenditure in healthy individuals. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 51(2), 241-247.