Did you know that March is considered National Nutrition Month®? Yep, it sure is and for many people who are still working towards their new year’s resolution goals, learning more about nutrition can add some value to their progress.
One of the first steps to eating healthier and making better food choices is to learn how to read a food label. The good news is that food labels are essentially standard on all packaging and once you learn how to read one, it becomes easier and faster to select food that will provide better nutrition for your body.
Ready to learn the basics of the nutritional food labels on food packages? Continue reading the article below that was published on the eatright.org website on December 8, 2016.
The Basics of the Nutrition Food Label
(reviewed by Taylor Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN)
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. 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.
Check Out the Total Calories
- Find out how many calories are in a single serving. It’s smart to cut back on calories if you are watching your weight.
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 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 calories a day should eat.
- Percent DV are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack
- 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.
The High and Low of Daily Values
- 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.
Limit Saturated Fat, Added Sugars and Sodium
Eating less saturated fat, added sugars and sodium may help reduce your risk for chronic disease.
- Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
- Eating too much added sugar makes it difficult to meet nutrient needs within your calorie requirement.
- High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure.
- Remember to aim for low percentage DV of these nutrients.
Get Enough Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber
- 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.
- Choose more fruits and vegetables to get more of these nutrients.
- Remember to aim high for percentage DV of these nutrients.
You know about calories, but it is important to also know the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts Label.
- Protein 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.
- Carbohydrates There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables.
- Sugars 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. Added sugars will be included 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.
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.
So, what do you think? Feel like you can make better choices the next time you go grocery shopping? Sure you can! However, keep in mind the first few times you go shopping that you may get a little frustrated because you will feel like you are spending a lot of time ‘looking’ at the food. But once you get the hang of reading these labels and understand what ingredients to avoid and the ones you need, the process will become much easier (and faster). Heck, this proactive behavior might even rub off on some of your family members.
Wishing each of you a happy and healthy National Nutrition Month® for March!
Eatright is the webportal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals founded in Cleveland, Ohio in 1917. For more information, review their very informative website. National Nutrition Month® logo and picture are property of the Academy.
Title graphic by SAE & trail mix and featured pic by pixabay