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Should you eat this? Often, or just occasionally? What does the label say? Nutrition labels don’t make food decisions as simple as we’d like. How you evaluate a food product depends on various factors, including your health goals. Here’s one way that you can quickly estimate whether or not a product is reasonably healthy using just three pieces of information from the label:

  • #1 Grams of fiber
  • #2 Grams of protein
  • #3 Grams of sugar

The chart below may look complicated at first glance, but stay with us. Once you get this, you can do it in your head in just a few moments. For this visual demo, we compared three varieties of Kind® bar, a snack you may be counting on to fortify you between class, work, and meetings of all kinds. Kind® bars have rapidly come to dominate the nutrition bar scene: Six of the top 10 fastest-selling nutrition bars are Kind® bars, according to data from Nielsen, the market research company. Not all flavors are created equal. Different varieties of the same product can vary widely in nutritional composition, so it’s worth checking each one.

1.

Does one serving contain at least 3 grams of fiber?

Oats & Honey Toasted Coconut (Healthy Grains)®

2.5g fiber
Enjoy occasionally and seek out healthier options.

Nutrition label for Oats & Honey Toasted Coconut

Fiber Grams: 2.5

Protein Grams: Not relevant; this bar is already out of the running

Sugar Grams: Not relevant; this bar is already out of the running

Fiber Grams + Protein Grams - Sugar Grams: Not relevant; this bar is already out of the running

Oats and Honey Toasted Coconut

Almond & Apricot®

6g fiber
Good start. Next question.

Nutrition label for Almond & Apricot

Fiber Grams: 6

Protein Grams: 4

Sugar Grams: 10

Fiber Grams + Protein Grams - Sugar Grams: 0

Almond and Apricot

Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt®

7g fiber
Good start. Next question.

Nutrition label for Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt

Fiber Grams: 7

Protein Grams: 6

Sugar Grams: 5

Fiber Grams + Protein Grams - Sugar Grams: +8

Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt
1.

Add the number of grams of protein to the number of grams of fiber. Then subtract the number of grams of sugar.

If you end up with a positive number (above zero), the food product meets a basic standard of nutritional value. If your number runs negative (below zero), consider eating something else.

Almond & Apricot®

6 + 3 – 10 = -1
Enjoy occasionally and seek out healthier options.

Almond and Apricot

Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt®

7 + 6 – 5 = +8
Yay! Eat it.

Chocolate Nuts and Sea Salt

Wellness Campaign tools & resources

This strategy for reading food labels is known as the Altman Rule. It is named for Wayne Altman, MD, a family physician practicing in Arlington, Massachusetts, and professor of family medicine and director of medical student education in the Department of Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston. Dr. Altman and Kerri Hawkins, MS, RD, LDN, co-created WellnessCampaign.org to help people make permanent, positive changes in their health.

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Article sources

Wayne Altman, MD, FAAFP; family physician, Family Practice Group, Arlington, Massachusetts; professor of family medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston; director of medical student education, Department of Family Medicine at Tufts; co-founder, Wellness Campaign.

Kerri Hawkins, MS, RD, LDN, cPT; dietitian, Family Practice Group, Arlington, Massachusetts; co-founder, Wellness Campaign.

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2014, October 8). Eat right when money’s tight. Retrieved from
http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/planning-and-prep/eat-right-on-a-budget/eating-right-when-moneys-tight

Fairchild, C. (2014, February 10). Why Kind bars are suddenly everywhere. Fortune. Retrieved from  http://fortune.com/2014/02/10/why-kind-bars-are-suddenly-everywhere/

Kind. (2014). [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.kindsnacks.com/

US Department of Agriculture. (2011). Eating better on a budget. Retrieved from
https://www.choosemyplate.gov/ten-tips-eating-better-on-a-budget

US Department of Agriculture. (2016, March 23). Read the food label. Retrieved from
https://www.choosemyplate.gov/budget-food-label

US Food and Drug Administration. (2015). How to understand and use the nutrition facts label. Retrieved from http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm

WellnessCampaign.org. (n.d.). [Website]. Retrieved from http://www.wellnesscampaign.org/

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Renée Morrison completed her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Concordia University in Montreal and works as a freelance writer covering travel, health, and wellness topics.