Reading a Nutrition Facts Label can be daunting for some. Check out our guide on how to read food labels below.
HOW TO READ A NUTRITION LABEL
The nutrition facts label is a kind of label which contains the specific nutritional contents contained in a food sample. It is mostly required on the back of all packaged food in various countries around the world. Many people purchase food items daily without knowing that the packaging contains all the needed information about the contents of the food, its fat and calories proportion, the daily requirements of minerals and vitamins it has. Many seem confused mere looking at the side information on the food package; how to read food labels and understand it, and working out what it all means after reading it. Keep scrolling below to learn how to read food labels the right way.
Consuming healthy foods is a cognizant choice; therefore you must start looking at food in another dimension. If we realize the extent of damage done to our body by filling one’s body with high sodium and excessive fats, you’ll be compelled to fuse your diet with food items that are healthier. Vegetables and fresh fruits are always better options than canned foods. If canned items are the only food item available, ensure to peruse the labels to check any fat, salt or sugar in the product. One would be astonished to discover how many hidden ingredients are contained in the product.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO READ FOOD LABELS?
There are basically two forms of labels on a packaged food. The first label is the front label, and basically, contains additional advertisement space for the item. It might portray words like ‘added vitamins’ or ‘healthy’; of which every consumer wants to hear. There are a couple of things to look out for on the front label which will eventually refer you to the back for the real truth. It’s important to learn how to read food labels.
The Nutrition Facts panel has been in existence for approximately 20 years. This panel displays only the essential nutrients with respect to the United States Department of Agriculture Dietary guidelines, in order not to make the label cumbersome. The nutrients not stated on the panel are for those with no established Daily Value, or “DV” in short terms. Daily value is a guideline that shows the amount of nutrient we ought to consume or restrict our consumption on a daily scale. Therefore, a lot of foods contain some nutrients not included on the nutrition panel.
Detailed Guide on how to Read Food Labels
This involves dissecting the information on the food label to know the nutritional content of the food. This information contains all of the following:
- serving size
- servings per container/package
- Fats, saturated fats, trans fats
- dietary fiber
- vitamins and minerals
Serving Size and Servings per Container/Package
This is the first data written on the back of a food label. It is the measure of food regularly eaten at a time. The size refers to the fundamental household measurement, like cups, pieces, or ounces. For instance, a serving might be 3 cups of cereal or 8 Irish potato chips.
Serving size is an essential factor in one’s diet. You must juxtapose the food quantity of food you do eat with the serving size on the label. Consuming huge portions can result in weight gain. The bigger your food portions are, the higher the calories you consume. For instance, the label may indicate a serving size as 8 Irish potato chips. If by chance you eat 16 chips, you are devouring twice the amount of nutrients and calories.
The label also gives a column of percentages usually referred to as the percent daily value. This is a comparison of the quantity of a nutrient in one serving of food to determine the quantity of the nutrient to be consumed in a day. The percentages depend on an everyday regimen of 2,000 calories. There is a need for adjustment if you consume less or more than 2,000 calories in a day. Everybody has his/her distinctive calorie needs. This is a function of your age, gender, and activity level.
This is the unit of stored energy in food, and the potential of a food to enhance weight gain. Weight gain simply occurs when one has too many calories and less physical activity to shed off the calories. And keeping it in mind that all foods provide calories, those with higher fat content will contain more caloric density and must be consumed with moderation to restrict calories. Take note that calories are not proportional to the healthiness of a food; as a matter of fact, Food and Drug Administration’s definition of the term “healthy” does not tally with calories.
Continuously check the calories to ensure you are keeping to your day by day calorie plan. This depends on whether you are attempting to gain, lose, or maintain weight and other factors. In case you don’t know the quantity of calories you ought to get in a day, ask your dietitian or doctor. Or use a calorie calculator.
Saturated Fats and Trans-Fats, and Sodium
(Learn more about Good Fats vs Bad Fats here)
Saturated fat: This form of fat increases one’s risk of cardio-vascular diseases and a high level of cholesterol. An average adult should not consume more than 20 grams of saturated fat in a day. (What are saturated fats? see a full list of foods high in saturated fats here)
Trans-fat: Just like saturated fats, this form of fat also increases one’s risk of cardio-vascular diseases. Normally, you ought to get zero grams of trans-fat in a day. Yet, firms will list 0g if it has any content less than 0.5g of trans-fat per serving. This implies that your food might contain trans-fat regardless of the possibility that the nutrition facts label says 0g. Always ensure to peruse the ingredient list for trans-fat items. This includes baked goods, hydrogenated vegetable oil, fried foods, margarine, and snack foods. (What are Trans-Fats? see a full list of foods high in trans-fat here)
Sodium: Many individuals get excessive salt, or sodium. The vast majority of it is in restaurant items and packaged foods. Ensure to confine salt to about 1 teaspoon in a day. In the event that you have kidney disease, high blood pressure, or diabetes; aged above 51 or are African-American, your per day limit should be 1,500 mg. This is something I pay attention too a lot when reading nutrition facts on my grocery purchases since I find I get headaches when I eat foods with too much sodium. Drinking more water when you eat high sodium foods is helpful to help with that.
All of the 3 above ought to be limited. Focus on the percentage daily value to know the portion of the daily maximum provided by the food.
Protein helps you keep a healthy weight, staves off hunger, and helps build muscle. Every meal should have sufficient protein, but this does not infer that every food must contain protein. The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.36 grams/pound, which equates to 54g of protein for a 150 lbs individual.
To some degree, protein (just like fat and fiber) reduces carbohydrate metabolism which is beneficial to diabetic patients. Therefore, look out for carbohydrate foods with low fiber content. In any case, we don’t need a colossal measure of protein, irrespective of activity level, and an excessive amount can have devastating effects.
Understanding how to read food labels for carbs is a little confusing because it’s broken up into multiple items. Total carbohydrates on any nutrition facts label includes: Dietary fiber, sugar, complex carbs and other non-digestible additives. You’ll see the total first, then carbs are broken down into dietary fiber and sugars – and you’ll see an amount for each of those.
Dietary Fiber – This is essential to a healthy diet. Fiber aids the body in digesting the food consumed. It helps us go to the bathroom! Yes, this is a good thing! Additionally, it can help reduce one’s risk of heart disease and diabetes. A food is rated high in fiber provided it contains 5g or more in a serving. Men aged 50 years or below should consume a minimum of 38g of fiber in a day. Women of age bracket 50 years or below should consume a minimum of 25 grams of fiber in a day. Fiber is readily available in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. There are also fiber supplements for those who find they aren’t getting enough fiber. [See Amazon for fiber supplements]
Sugars – This is a tricky section as currently the only sugars counted are those naturally from fruits, veggies and dairy, as well as high fructose corn syrup or other added sugars. Soon a new food label will be released with “added sugars” also. Until then, always read the ingredients to see any added sugars.
>>> See our post on 59 Other Names for Sugar to learn what sugar is disguised as in ingredients labels. <<<
Vitamins and Minerals
These consist of Vitamins A, C, iron and calcium and are all of great benefit to the body and contribute immensely to making our food a lot healthier.
Cholesterol assists the body in forming cell membranes, helps the body form acids used in breaking dietary fat and serves as a building block for several hormones. It has a bad reputation due to the fact that its excess in the bloodstream clogs up the arterial walls and inhibit blood flow.
Since the design of nutrition facts label, studies proved that dietary cholesterol may not really raise the cholesterol level in the blood, though trans-fat and refined sugar may do that.
You should consume nothing lesser than 300mg of cholesterol daily. If by chance you have cardiac disease, you should take a measure less than 200mg in a day.
It is of utmost importance to know your nutrition goals first, in order to read food labels appropriately. For instance, if you’re obese; making a comparison of the calorie content of several options gives you an option to select a low-calorie, highly nutritious product to keep your day-to-day calorie goals alive. The information on serving size is indispensable since the listed nutrient information on the label is usually for more than one serving. Therefore, always ensure you check the nutrition facts label of every food product you buy to know what you really want for your body. Learning how to read food labels isn’t an easy task, so I hope this article was helpful to you. If you have questions, reach out to me anytime.