UNDERSTANDING THE NUTRITION LABELS ON YOUR FOOD
You might be surprised to find out that the food labels we’re so accustomed to seeing on the sides of our cereal boxes and other food items weren’t required by law until the late ‘90s. Despite its modern inception many of us still find nutrition labels hard to understand. Learning how to read and understand nutrition labels is worth the effort and can lead to better decisions and a healthier life.
The American Heart Foundation suggests starting at the top of the label and working your way down. A quick understanding of the basics can help you know what you’re putting into your body, how much you are or should be consuming, and make any necessary changes to improve your health.
Serving Size: The serving size is the first thing listed on a food label because it applies to everything else on the label. Serving sizes are set by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and should be viewed as measurements, not recommendations. The purpose of the serving size is to help you gauge how much you’re eating and how that amount works within your total daily amount of food intake. Look at the serving size as well as the total number of servings per container to wrap your head around what is really in the food item you’re eating.
Calories per Serving: This one is a biggie. Pay close attention to this number to see how it coincides with the serving size. For example, if there are 200 calories per serving and a serving size is ¼ cup but you always eat ½ cup, make sure you do the math accordingly to know that you are consuming 400 calories. The same goes for if you eat an entire food item. Don’t let the calories per serving fool you into thinking that is the total number of calories in the item. Be sure to look at how many total servings there are in the package as well.
Nutrients: The daily percentage values given on a food label are calculated for average adults who eat 2,000 calories a day and can help you get an idea as to if you are consuming too much or too little of certain nutrients. Cholesterol, fat (especially trans fat), sugar, and sodium should all be limited in your diet—especially if you’re trying to lower your blood pressure or lose weight. On the other hand, nutrients such as fiber, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins are beneficial to your health and food labels can help you ensure you are receiving enough of each nutrient on a daily basis.
Ingredients: Product ingredients are listed in order of quantity within that product. Paying attention to the listed ingredients can be especially helpful if you are trying to cut down on something specific or if you have any food allergies.
Now that you’re armed with some basic knowledge about food labels, it’s time to start reading them! Doing so will help you become more aware of what you’re putting in your body and will also help you compare food items and make better diet choices.