Reading Food Labels

Understanding how to accurately read food labels is a very important skill when starting a weight gain diet. It’s an important skill because you want to be able to determine how much protein, carbohydrate, and fat is present in the foods that you eat, and which foods to avoid.

Nutrition Label

Serving Size

The important thing you need to realize is that even though food labels list a certain number of calories per serving, this does not mean you are in fact consuming this number calories per serving. Often times the serving size listed on the food label is not accurate. This is a problem because the nutrition food label is based on the “serving size,” so if you make the mistake of assuming this is correct then you will be getting the wrong information.

So, what should you do to get an accurate serving size? After a while it will just become second nature and you will know how many calories you are eating just by looking at the serving size. I generally recommend breaking out the measuring scales for a few weeks when first getting started, until you have a good eye for determining serving size.


Calculating the total number of calories would have to be the most important data on the food label if you are trying to gain weight. Figuring out the correct number of calories from protein, carbohydrate, and fat is relatively straightforward. You simply have to take the number of grams listed in the amount per serving and multiply this number by 4 for protein and carbs. Figuring out the fat calories is a bit different. Take the number of grams of fat listed in the amount per serving and multiply this number by 9.


Carbohydrate would have to be the most misunderstood piece of information on food labels. Regardless of what you may have read, carbohydrate is an important part of a bulking up diet and should make up about 50% of total calories. There are two main types of carbohydrate – simple and complex carbs, but they are not created equal. Most of your calories from carbs should come from complex sources, but how do you know if a food is a simple or complex carbohydrate?

The first way of knowing whether or not a food is a simple carb or complex carb is identifying which foods fit into these two categories. Foods which contain complex (good) carbohydrates include most fruits, vegetables, pasta, beans, nuts, oats, whole grains, whole wheat bread and brown rice. Simple (bad) carbs can be found in most types of junk food, such as cakes, candy, soda, syrups, white bread and white rice.

The second way of knowing whether or not a certain food is a simple or complex carb is by reading the nutrition label. Listed below total carbohydrate is “dietary fiber” and “sugars”.

Dietary fiber is the indigestible parts of plant cells and is one of the few nutrients which you want to be high on the food label. If a food has a high amount of fiber (only needs to be a few grams), it’s more then likely a complex carb. Although it’s considered a carbohydrate, fiber does not convert to glucose and therefore does not raise your blood sugar the same way other carbohydrates typically do, which is what makes a complex carb good in the first place.

The “sugars” section includes those that are present naturally in the food. For example, lactose which is present in milk and fructose in fruit, as well as sugars added to the food during processing. Your body usually can’t distinguish between natural and processed sugars. Foods which have high sugar content will usually mean it’s a simple carb, so it’s best to stay away from them as much as possible.