Nutrition Labels: A Helpful Health Tool
Nutrition labels can be a helpful health tool, even if studies show most of us don’t care to bother with them. It can be a total bore to waste time in the grocery store reading those labels. Especially if you’re in a hurry, as so many of us are most of the time.
Is it really going to stop you from buying something you want? Probably not.
So how about this. Find some of your favorite foods in your kitchen right now and read the nutrition labels. Once you have an idea what the data is for your most often purchased items, you won’t have to look at them again.
Learning how to shop and read nutrition labels is important to healthy eating. Most foods now have a Nutrition Facts section on the label. The first items listed on the food label are the serving size and number of servings per container. This information is essential if you are going to follow dietary guidelines designed to promote health.
All of the label information for each of the nutrients listed – calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, carbohydrate, fiber, sugar and protein, are based on the serving size listed.
Since the food manufacturer determines the serving size, this may not be a recommended amount to eat. It may not even be the amount you would eat. Also, the manufacturer’s serving size listed on the food label is not necessarily the serving size recommended for good health.
You need to know how much of the listed serving size you are eating. If you consume double the serving size listed, then you will need to double all of the nutrient and calorie information. If you consume half the serving size listed, then cut out the nutrient and calorie information in half.
Calories and Nutrients on the Nutrition Labels
Next on the nutrition label is the total number of calories per serving. These calories can come from several sources including carbohydrates, protein, fat, alcohol and sugar. Next listed on the nutrition labels: Calories from fat for each serving.
You can compare these numbers to get an idea of how fat-concentrated the item is. Example: An item with 100 calories per serving and 50 calories from fat gets half of its calories from fat – that is 5-percent! Eating a low-fat diet does not mean you never can eat items that are high in fat. It just means you should balance your total food intake so you do not get more than 30 percent of your daily calories from fat.
Below the calories, you will find information about fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and protein. You can keep track of your intake of these items by recording the number of grams or milligrams given for the serving size. The right-hand column tells you the percent of daily value, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The bottom half of the nutrition facts found on the label contains the recommended amounts of fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium and fiber for promoting health. Compare your usual amount to these recommended amounts. For example, if your lunch sandwich alone has 63 grams of fat and the recommendation is for 65 grams of fat per day, you may run into trouble if you eat this way on a daily basis.
Only foods that meet certain definitions and standards can suggest a health-enhancing effect. Some of the more common terms you might find and the definitions are:
- Lite: 1/2 less fat or 1/3 fewer calories than the original reference product.
- Cholesterol free: Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol per serving and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
- Low fat: No more than 3 grams of fat per serving.
- Reduced fat: At least 25-percent less fat per serving than the original reference food.
See also: The Food Label