Reading Nutrition Labels after Bariatric Surgery

Because they tell you exactly what’s in everything you eat, food labels can be valuable tools after bariatric surgery. Using labels to make more informed eating decisions will help you:

  • Cut unnecessary calories, carbohydrates and unhealthy fats from your diet

  • Reach your daily protein goals

  • Eat more essential nutrients

Starting at the top, here’s a breakdown of the information included on a nutrition label and what it means to you after bariatric surgery. Your next trip to the grocery store will be less of a guessing game and more likely to support your need for nutrient dense foods that are high protein lower carb food options to base your week's food intake on.

Serving Size

Serving size tells you how much you’ll need to eat to get the nutrients listed below, so it’s your guide to the rest of the label. Compare the portion size you’ll be eating to the serving size—if the serving size is ½ cup and you’ll be eating 1 cup, you’ll get twice the calories, fats and nutrients listed on the label.


Here you’ll find calories and calories from fat. You can use this to meet daily calorie recommendations we’ve provided and compare foods to find options that are lower in calories.

Nutritional Value

The rest of the label tells you how much of each nutrient is contained in a single serving. Nutrients are listed by either grams or milligrams, while some are also listed by percent daily value (often abbreviated as % RDI).
Percent daily value is a recommendation for how much of each nutrient an average person should eat in a 2,000-calorie diet. If a food lists total fat at 15 percent daily value, this means that one serving of the food contains 15 percent of the fat that most people should eat in one day.
Because you’ll be eating a reduced calorie diet after bariatric surgery, percent daily value won’t apply directly to you, but it can still help you gauge a food’s nutritional value.

Ingredient List

Read the list of ingredients carefully, when you are looking at making healthier choices. The ingredients by law, have to be listed on the food's label in the order of their appearance - so if you are looking at reducing added sugar, excess calories and increasing protein, foods that have sugar as the first or second ingredient will not be your friend!

RDI = Recommended daily intake. This is a representation of the MINIMUM amount of a certain nutrient you need daily to maintain good health
  • 20% RDI or more means the food is high in that nutrient.

  • 5% RDI or less means the food is low in that nutrient

When considering a food’s nutritional value, remember to look at:


The majority of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Though duodenal switch patients will need to eat saturated fat, those who have had other surgeries should do their best to avoid it, and trans fat will need to be avoided by all.

  • Gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy and gastric band: Eat no more than 30 grams of fat each day.

  • Duodenal switch: Eat between 80 and 120 grams of fat per day.

Cholesterol & Sodium

Eating less of these nutrients can help you reduce your risk of hypertension, heart disease and cancer, so look for foods with a low % RDI


Just after weight loss surgery, you’ll need to eat less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day. This number can increase gradually for patients of bypass, band and sleeve, but will remain indefinitely after DS surgery. Keep your intake of sugar low and introduce fiber carefully—eating too much fiber too fast can cause discomfort.


Because protein will help you stay healthy right the way through your weight loss journey as well as build muscle, you’ll need to find foods that are high in protein.

  • Gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy and gastric band: Eat about 70 to 80 grams of protein each day.

  • Duodenal switch: Eat at least 80 to 100 grams of protein each day.

Vitamins & Minerals

Important vitamins and minerals are listed at the bottom of the label by % RDI In general, try to find foods that are high in:

  • Vitamin A

  • Vitamin C

  • Calcium

  • Iron

  • B group

Now that you know how to read food labels, you can use them to ensure that the foods you eat will fit your bariatric surgery diet and help you reach your nutritional goals.

food label