The Breakdown of a Nutrition Label
Understanding how to interpret a nutrition label, maybe your key to success for uncovering food sensitivities, losing weight, or making healthier food choices. Before your cart starts piling up with groceries, take a few minutes to explore the ins and outs of nutrition labels. Your health, and waistline, will thank you.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration listed the following label building skills to make it easier for you to use nutrition labels. These tips will allow each of us to make quick, informed choices that contribute to a healthy diet (1). PS printable infographic posted at the end of article. Don’t forget to scroll to save and print this informative document!
1. Start with the Serving Size
The first place to start when you look at the Nutrition Label is the serving size, and number of servings in the package. The serving size on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label (1). Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.
2. Check Out the Total Calories
Calories provide our bodies with energy. This number signifies how many calories are in one serving. Make sure you take that into account when assessing how many calories you have consumed. As we all know, eating more calories than we burn during a day can lead to weight gain. If you want to lose weight, look for foods that are low in calories but high in nutrients.
According to the FDA, the general guide to calories include: 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, 400 calories or more is high.
3. Let the Percent Daily Values Be Your Guide
Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day. A food item with a 5 percent DV of fat provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 or 2,500 calories a day should eat. To note, the percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack.
Depending on your goals, you may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent DV.
Low is 5 percent or less. Aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
High is 20 percent or more. Aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
4. Limit These Nutrients
Health experts recommend keeping your intake of: saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars, cholesterol, and sodium as low as possible to help reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure (1).
5. Get Enough of These Nutrients
Eat more fiber, potassium, vitamin D, calcium and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems such as osteoporosis and anemia. For example, getting enough calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that results in brittle bones as one ages (1). Additionally, choose more fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain dietary fiber to get more of these nutrients into your diet. Remember to aim high for percentage DV of the following nutrients: vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber.
6. Additional Nutrients
You know about calories, but it is also important to know about the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts label.
A percentage Daily Value for protein is not required on the label. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans and peas, peanut butter, seeds and soy products. As a general guide, adults are recommended to get between 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight, per day (2).
Fats include, unsaturated, saturated, and trans fat. Unsaturated fat, or “good fat,” if often referred to as a “heart-healthy” fat. Foods that contain this type of fat include avocados, nuts, eggs, fish, and vegetable oils.
There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables. The total carbohydrate count on a nutrition label includes both fiber and sugar. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body takes a long time to digest and, thus, leaves you feeling full loner. Whole fruits, vegetables, and grains all contain fiber.
Simple carbohydrates, or sugars, occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) and milk (lactose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup. The AHA suggest limiting your daily sugar intake to 9 teaspoons for men, and 6 teaspoons for women (2). Added sugars were added to on the Nutrition Facts label in 2018. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends consuming no more than 10 percent of daily calories from added sugars.
If you subtract the grams of fiber from the total carbohydrates, you will be left with total grams of carbohydrates per serving (2).
7. Check the Ingredient List
Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is particularly helpful to individuals with food sensitivities, those who wish to avoid pork or shellfish, limit added sugars or people who prefer vegetarian eating.
Now that you understand how to read a nutrition label, you can make healthier and more informed decisions about the food products you are buying. For additional resources from the FDA, head to www.fda.gov.
(1) “Labeling & Nutrition – How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration Home Page, Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, 3 Jan. 2018, www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm.
(2) Aucoin, Ashley. “Decoding Nutrition Labels: What You Should Be Paying Attention To.” Fix.com, 3 Jan. 2017, www.fix.com/blog/what-to-look-for-on-nutrition-labels/.