How To Read Nutrition Labels
Sure you may look at the label, but are you taking into account the variety of factors that determine these numbers? How much is too much? Don’t fall prey to the misinterpretation, it may cost you your health.
Read along with your favorite packaged food. Start at the top, moving downwards.
WARNING: May cause you to rethink your diet. And remember, labels are not recommendations, just measurements.
- Serving Size: This is at the top because all of the other nutritional information that follows is contingent on a single serving size. Make sure you read how many servings are in that particular package. If you eat two servings contained in that package, you must double the calories, nutrients, and fats.
- Calories: You may have a bag of pretzels but that does not mean that your entire bag is one serving. Usually serving size is denoted by how many pieces and the caloric content is listed for that serving size. Therefore, if one serving of pretzels is 110 calories and the entire bag has four servings, that’s 440 calories for the bag.
- Calories from Fat: You can use this to compare similar foods, perhaps from different manufacturers, to determine which brand has less calories or less calories from fat.
Percent Daily Value (DV): All of the label’s nutritional information is based off a 2,000-calorie diet. (Your personal nutritional needs may differ from this, particularly if you are trying to lose weight or are extremely active.) This percentage shows how many nutrients a single serving provides you with for an entire day worth of nutrition.
For example, based on a 2,000-calorie diet, one hard-boiled egg supplies you with 8% of your total fat for the day, leaving you with 92% for the remainder of the day’s meals.
- Fat: Oh, the dreaded word! Listed under fat, you will find the DV of saturated fat, trans fat, polyunsaturated fat, and monounsaturated fat. Aim for foods with less saturated and trans fats, and slightly higher polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.
Cholesterol: The American Heart Association recommends that the average adult have no more than 300mg of cholesterol per day. And you need cholesterol to produce cell membranes and cell hormones. Limiting your cholesterol intake reduces your risk of cardiovascular related diseases (heart disease is the number one killer in America) and high cholesterol.
Note: Dietary cholesterol comes almost exclusively from animal products. Although vegan products do contain cholesterol, these trace amounts are almost undetectable unless consumed in extremely high amounts. Decreasing the amount of animal related foods drastically drops your risk of high cholesterol.
Sodium: Everything tastes better with salt, right? You’d be flabbergasted at how much sodium is lurking in your prepared foods. The current dietary guidelines suggest that we consume less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. That sounds pretty high, high enough that in 2010 the American Heart Association released a statement claiming that everyone needed to go back to the 2005 recommendation of 1,500mg. Reducing the amount of sodium you consume substantially reduces your risk of high blood pressure, hypertension, and other cardiovascular related diseases. So before you pile it on, think before you sprinkle.
Here are some quick benchmarks:
- Sodium free = Less than 5mg
- Very low sodium = Less than 35mg
- Low sodium = Les than 140mg
- Carbohydrates: This area includes both healthy (dietary fiber) and unhealthy (sugar) carbs. Remember that not all carbs are bad for you; just be mindful of the DV percentage.
- Dietary Fiber: The average adult should consume 21g to 35g of fiber each day. A good source of fiber will show 2.5 – 4.9g, and high fiber at anything greater than 5g. Fiber aids in digestion, lowers cholesterol, controls blood sugar, and reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Learn more about insoluable and soluable fibers here.
Sugars: Since there is no daily reference value listed, you need to be mindful of the amount you consume. The American Heart Association recommends that men consume no more than 36g per day and women no more than 24g per day. What is even scarier is that the average American consumes 84g per day!
Whether its glucose, dextrose, fructose, or galactose, sugars appear in sneaky ways and are everywhere (yeah, that bowl of cereal you had this morning was probably high in sugar).
- Protein: The average adult needs anywhere from 40 – 150g of protein each day, depending on their age, weight, and fitness goals. Protein keeps your body functioning properly by aiding in muscle recovery, tissue repair, and maintaining the acid balance in your blood. Most people do not need to supplement protein in their diet since their normal diet includes enough.
- Ingredients: The ingredients are listed from the greatest quantity to least quantity. The higher up the ingredient is on the list, the more prevalent it is in the recipe. Keep this in mind when you are looking for specific ingredients (whole grains, less sugar) and use it to compare products.
Time Healthland – Study: Why People Don’t Read Nutrition Labels
Fooducate – A Brief History of Food and Nutrition Labeling
Berkeley News 21 – Rethink the Food Label