Learn How To Read The Nutritional Fact Labels

Reading Ingredient LabelsMany modifications have been done to the nutrition facts label that we see now since it was first used in 1986. Initially, it was included in the packaging of food products to educate people about the relationship of the diet to heart disease. Soon, when obesity became a problem that seemed to be growing, information about calories and calories from fat was added. Now, we have more on these labels as they already feature several key minerals, vitamins, and nutrients.

Make full use of the nutrition facts

Minding the nutrition facts can actually help consumers choose the right kinds of food items for their diet, although, sometimes, the data can be confusing. The data on the labels cannot always directly translate into accurate kitchen instructions. The best thing to do is not to mind other irrelevant entries on the label and just take notice of the few components that really matter. What are these important bits of information on the label that we should all take notice of?

Here are a few things that might be very useful to label readers:

Serving size: Critically Important

If we look at the uppermost portion of the label, we will notice that it indicates a standard serving size and the total number of servings that is in the food product that we purchased. This is very important in understanding the rest of the entries on the label. For example, a can of Vienna Sausages may only have 140 calories per serving, but if the entire can contains two servings, then you would be getting 280 calories if you eat everything in the can. The USDA and the FDA have implemented standard measurements for serving sizes. Cereal, for instance, is ¾ of a cup per serving. The rest of the information on the label is based on the serving size indicated. This means that it is very important to know what the serving is for the product that you are purchasing.

Know the difference between Saturated and Trans Fats

Heart disease prevention requires that we mind our saturated and trans fat consumption. These kinds of fats affect the levels of cholesterol in our blood and, therefore, increase the risk of heart disease. We should also be aware that when a label says the product is trans-fat-free, it may actually contain half a gram or less of trans fat, as is allowed for them to make this claim. To validate the amount of trans fat in a product use the ingredients list and look for partially hydrogenated oils; these oils are sources of trans fat. Nevertheless, it is always wise to opt for foods that are low in both saturated and trans fats.

What does daily values mean?

Cryptic entries in the nutritional facts label are not really that complex if we know how to interpret them. One thing that we usually notice in these labels is the entry, “% Daily Value”. This entry simply tells you what percent of the indicated recommended daily nutrient is contained in each serving of the product.

The standard daily calorie requirement is 2,000 calories and the percentage shown in this entry is based on this standard.  Normally, men and active women require more calories to give them more energy; in this case, take notice of the recommended amounts in grams for a 2000-calorie-a-day and a 2500-calorie-a-day diet.

If you hate math, like most of us do, don’t consider this as a barrier for you to be able to make healthy choices; just remember that if it is 5% and below, then it is low in that item, and if it is 20% or more, then the product contains a high amount of that particular nutrient.

Mind your Fiber Facts

Twenty-five to thirty-eight grams of fiber is the recommended amount for most of us to consume. Unfortunately, most people consume barely half of this amount.

The rule of thumb is to purchase products like bread and cereals with at least three grams of fiber per serving. Other sources of fiber are fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts.

Sodium:  Don’t get too salty!

Too much salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, the leading cause of heart disease. It is plausible, therefore, that food labels single out this particular mineral; the higher the salt, the greater the increase in blood pressure. Potassium, on the other hand can help keep blood pressure at bay.

Always prefer foods that have 5% or even less of the daily requirement of sodium. Watering down the liquid from canned foods can also lower sodium content.

Sugars:  Sweet and empty (calories)

There are many forms of sugar. Almost all of these forms are high in calories and low in nutritional value. The sugar entry in the label can help us because this figure is a combination of all the different forms of sugar found in the food product that we purchase. Note that a level teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to 4-5 grams.

Vitamins and Minerals:  Facts to Track

Maintaining a balanced diet replete with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low fat dairy products, plus multivitamins would probably make the vitamin entry on the nutrition facts label useless to you. These labels show the vitamin C, A, calcium and iron content of the product. If you want additional calcium look for foods with at least 20% of this mineral in them.

Set your priorities using Nutrition Labels

Identify your health problem first before deciding which of the entries on the nutritional label you need most. People with weight problems need to mind their calories, those with high blood pressure or hypertension should stay away from sodium. Compare food items and make the best choice based on what you really need.

Reading nutrition labels can enable people to maintain low fat diets and get more iron and fiber from their food.

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4 Responses

  1. NICOLE says:

    IF I TAKE THE TOTAL FAT AND SUBSTRACT IT BY THE SATURATED AND TRANS FAT, WILL THAT GIVE ME THE AMOUNT OF GOOD FATS.

    EX: TOTAL FAT 15G SATURATED 3G TRANS FAT 1G

    GOOD FATS = 11G

  2. This has been a very good read! We often take for granted the nutritional fact labels we see in our food’s packaging. I sometimes forget to read them since I tend look for the expiration date more often.

  1. April 28, 2009

    […] can always refer to the “Nutritional Facts” on packaging to be able to know the real sodium count. As mentioned earlier let us not be […]

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    […] Related Article: Learn How To Read The Nutritional Fact Labels […]

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