Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Read a Nutrition Label

Navigating the back of a package of food can be a bit troublesome for some folks. (And no, I'm not talking about those games on cereal boxes.) Nutrition facts labels have so many numbers and percentages that it's very easy to get confused. But it's essential to know how to read them so you can judge the product for yourself instead of blindly believing whatever health claims they make on the front of the package. That's why I am here to clue you in on how to interpret the dang thing!

We'll start at the top of the label.

Using this lovely label from a cracker box, you can see it first lists Serving Size and Servings Per Container. This part is very is the key to interpreting the rest of the label, in fact. All of the rest of the information on the label is for ONE serving size, not the entire package. Lots of food items will try to trick you here. Some packages that look as if they are meant to be eaten or drunk as one serving are actually 1.5 or 2 servings or more. If you don't believe me, google the nutrition label for a 20 oz bottle of pop! So 1 serving here is 5 crackers. And there are about 5 x 28 crackers in the box.

Next we look at the Calories. Notice this is right under the text "Amount Per Serving." In this case, 5 crackers have 80 calories. Next to it we find that 40 of these 80 calories come from fat.

Traveling on down we see that there are 4.5 g of Fat per serving. Then you see a bunch of indented lines. Because these are indented, it means that these values are included in the total above it. It is simply telling us what those 4.5 g of fat are. So we see that 1 g is Saturated fat (try to limit this). There are 0 g of Trans fat (try to never have any of this). There are 1.5 g of Polyunsaturated fat and 2 g of Monounsaturated fat (these fats are healthier than saturated fats). So voila...we have our 4.5 g of fat.

Next comes Cholesterol. It's best to try to limit your intake of this to about 300 mg per day, on average. If you have issues with your cholesterol, it's recommended to keep your intake below 200 mg.

Then there's Sodium. Even people who have not been told to watch their sodium should still try to keep their sodium intake to less than 2,400 mg per day. If the food item has 400 mg or more of sodium per serving, that's considered pretty high.

Then we find our friends the carbohydrates. This part of the label is like the part listing the fat types. The two indented lines underneath Total Carbohydrate are included in this total. So here we have 9 g of carbs total and one of these grams is Sugar and less than one of these grams is Fiber, leaving about 7.5 g of other assorted types of carbs. When you consume carbohydrate-containing foods, it's best to have a good amount of fiber...preferably at least 2-3 g per serving.

Finally, there's good ol' Protein. I try to get at least 15-20 g of protein per meal.

Next you see a bunch of vitamins and minerals! Every label displays a different number of these. It's best to eat foods that are high in vitamins and minerals...but this usually means they are whole foods that don't come with a nutrition label.

But what about all that stuff on the right side and at the bottom? The % Daily Value numbers are (as it says at the bottom of the label) based on a 2000 calorie-per-day diet. So for instance, if you need 2000 calories a day, then eating one serving of these crackers is about 7% of your daily allotment of fat. However, I rarely pay attention to these values because everyone's calorie needs are different. You likely need either more or less than 2000 calories. Check back here on Friday for a link to a website that will calculate your estimated calorie needs!

I'll leave you with this helpful image that summarizes everything quite nicely. Please comment if you have any questions!

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