How to Read Nutrition Labels
Do you know exactly what you’re eating? Do you know all those ingredients used in making the bread that you consume daily? Do you know the amount of calories in one slice of bread? All these questions are answered in the food label given on the packaging of the food product and most times the label is not as straightforward as we like. So here is how you can read a food label to know exactly what is going into your system.
Food labels can be confusing and tricky to understand sometimes. The so-called healthy nutrition claims that are made on products could be false or a marketing gimmick in order to attract customers. Never evaluate a product based on any one item or claim, such as its fat, cholesterol, sugar, carbohydrate, or salt content. Attempting to cash in on the latest diet or nutrition craze, many companies promote their products based on a single item despite other unhealthy aspects. Claims of a “healthy low fat” product can turn out to be high in added sugars and consequently harmful to your body.
Let’s learn how to read the food label:
The information in the main or top section (see #1-4) of the sample nutrition label (below) can vary with each food and beverage product; it contains product-specific information (serving size, calories, and nutrient information). The bottom section contains a footnote that explains the % Daily Value and gives the number of calories used for general nutrition advice.
In the following Nutrition Facts label below, we have colored certain sections to help you focus on those areas that will be explained in detail. Note that these colored sections are not on the actual food labels of products you purchase.
Step 01: Start with the Serving Size
Look here for both the serving size (the amount people typically eat at one time) and the number of servings in the package.
Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. The Nutrition Facts applies to the serving size, so 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.
In the sample label, one serving of lasagna equals 1 cup. If you ate two cups, you would be consuming two servings. That is two times the calories and nutrients shown in the sample label. So you would need to double the nutrient and calorie amounts, as well as the %DVs, to see what you are getting in two servings.
Step 02: Read the calories
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. In the example, there are 280 calories in one serving of lasagna. What if you ate the entire package? Then, you would consume 4 servings, or 1,120 calories.
Step 03: Know the nutrients
This section will give you information on the amount and type of carbs, amount and type of fat, amount of protein and other minerals and vitamins that you would get out of one serving.
Nutrients that should you get less of-
Fat and sodium: Choose a food product that is low in saturated fat, added sodium and sugar. Make sure that the content of trans fat is nil. Eating too much saturated fat and sodium, for example, is associated with an increased risk of developing some health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Look at the number of milligrams of sodium the serving contains. A great rule of thumb: Limit the sodium in milligrams to no more than the number of calories in each serving. Your daily goal: less than 1,500mg of sodium.
Total Sugars on the Nutrition Facts label includes sugars naturally present in many nutritious foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruit as well as any added sugars that may be present in the product. No Daily Reference Value has been established for total sugars because no recommendation has been made for the total amount to eat in a day.
Added Sugars on the Nutrition Facts label include sugars that are added during the processing of foods (such as sucrose or dextrose), foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruits or vegetable juices. Diets high in calories from added sugars can make it difficult to meet daily recommended levels of important nutrients while staying within calorie limits.
Nutrients to get more of: Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium
Dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are nutrients on the label that Americans generally do not get the recommended amount of. Eating a diet high in dietary fiber can increase the frequency of bowel movements, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and reduce calorie intake. Diets higher in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium can reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, anemia, and high blood pressure.
Step 04: To know % DV
Use percent Daily Values (DV) to help evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily meal plan. Percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack. Daily Values are average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. A food item with a 5% DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat.
You may need more or less than 2,000 calories per day. For some nutrients you may need more or less than 100% DV.
Step 05: Read the ingredient list!
Last but certainly not least, is reading the ingredient list. This is a very important step that we all should be very careful about!. Most pre-packed food products also have a list of ingredients on the packaging or an attached label. The ingredients list can also help you work out how healthy the product is.
Ingredients are listed in order of weight, so the main ingredients in the packaged food always come first. That means that if the first few ingredients are high-fat ingredients, such as cream, butter or oil, then the food in question is a high-fat food.
Try to procure a food product with less number of ingredients. For example, if you plan on buying coconut oil, make sure that the only ingredient used is coconut. Avoid buying the product if you see any other ingredient.
Be careful with the food additives that are being used in most of the food products, like artificial sweeteners, artificial colour, chemical or artificial preservatives as these can cause gut disturbances. Especially if you have any food sensitivity or intolerance.
Keep yourself away from artificial emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, binders, ph control agents, anti-caking agents.
To conclude, Remember, the fewer the ingredients the better. The more the real ingredients the better.
Tags: food, food label, health claims, ingredients, sugar, carbs, protein, fat, sodium, trans fat, saturated fat, vitamins and minerals, fiber, artificial emulsifiers, stabilizers, thickeners, binders, ph control agents, anti-caking agents, calories, serving size, % daily value, food sensitivity, food intolerance, added sugar, total sugar, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium.