Picking healthy foods can be confusing, especially with all the misleading statements that companies advertise on the front their food products. Consumers may think they are buying the best option just because an item says fat-free, sugar-free or all natural. However, by learning and understanding food labels on the back of the food packages, you will be able to make informed and healthy decisions. The following is a quick guide to reading the Nutrition Facts label. (Note: The Nutrition Fact label used has colored sections to help focus on the areas that will be explained in detail. These colors will not be on the labels on products that you purchase).
1: SERVING SIZE
Start here! The serving size and the number of servings (highlighted in gray) are the first place to look at on the Nutrition Facts label. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods. They are provided in similar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount (e.g., grams).
The serving size on food packages influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. Make sure you pay attention to the serving size and the amount of serving sizes there are in a package! Compare your portion size (the amount you eat) to the serving size. If you are eating two cups, but the serving size is one cup, you are getting twice the calories, fats, carbs and other nutrients listed.
2: CHECK CALORIES
Pay attention to the amount of calories per serving. I recommend that you stick to one single serving or even less if you are watching or losing weight.
General Guide to Calories:
40 calories = low
100 calories = moderate
400 calories = high
3: LIMIT THESE NUTRIENTS
It is recommended that you limit these nutrients highlighted in blue. Eating less saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium, may help reduce your risk for chronic diseases. According to the American Heart Association, based on a 2,000 calorie diet, consume no more than 11-13 grams of saturated fat, as little of trans fat as possible and no more than 1,500 mg of sodium.
4: INCREASE YOUR CONSUMPTION OF THESE NUTRIENTS
Consuming enough of these nutrients highlighted in yellow can improve your health and help reduce your risk of some diseases and conditions. Most Americans do not get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium. Choosing more vegetables and fruits will help you get more of these nutrients.
5: PERCENT DAILY VALUES
Use the percent daily values that are highlighted in purple 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 calories per day. Remember, these values are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack. (Note: You may need more or less than 2,000 calories. For some nutrients, you may need more or less than 100% DV).
The Highs and Lows of % DV:
Low = 5% or less. Aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium.
High = 20% or more. Aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber.
6: CHECK THE INGREDIENT LIST
In addition to the sections shown in the above Nutrition Facts label, it is important to read the ingredient list on the back of the food package. 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 helpful to individuals who have food sensitivities or allergies, want to avoid shellfish, limit sugars or follow a particular diet such as vegan, vegetarian and Paleo diets.