Understanding more about the foods you eat will help you to make better choices to support your health and your weight management goals. And learning to navigate food labels is one way to become better informed.
Reading a food label is easy, once you understand what the label is telling you. The Food and Drug Administration has proposed some changes to both the look and the content of food labels that should make it easier to find the information you’re interested in. Let’s take a closer look at the Nutrition Facts portion of the label:
At the top of a Nutrition Facts label are Serving size and Servings per container.
- Serving size: This tells you the size of one serving. By law, this must be based on the amount of food or drink that people are actually consuming as a single portion. It’s an important measurement because it affects all the other measurements on the label.
- Servings per container: This is simply the number of servings in the container, based on the serving size.
- Calories: This is the number of calories in one serving. So, if there are, for example, nine servings in a bag of chips and you eat the whole bag, the calories are nine times that number.
- Calories from fat: This lets you know how many of those calories come from fat. The new label will no longer require this breakout.
Next is the breakout of the macronutrients, that is, the proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. For each of these macronutrients, both the total amount in the container and the percent Daily Value (%DV) that amount represents are given, based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. So, if a certain food provides 18 percent of the daily value of fat AND you are on a 2,000 calorie-a-day-diet, then you know a serving of that food will give you 18 percent of your daily value of fat. Of course, this is an average value; your personal daily value (and calorie intake) may differ depending on several factors, such as gender, height, weight, age, and activity level.
The next section is broken down like this:
- Total fat: This tells you the amount, in grams, of fat per serving and the %DV.
- Saturated fat: You want to limit these fats as much as possible.
- Trans fat: You want to limit these fats as much as possible. Trans fats can increase your “bad” cholesterol and reduce your “good” cholesterol. Food companies can list a food as “trans fat free” if it has 0.5 g or less per serving.
- Cholesterol: Try to limit consumption of cholesterol too. When comparing foods, look at the Nutrition Facts Label, and choose the food with the lower %DV of cholesterol (5% DV or less is considered low)
- Sodium: The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium intake to 1500 mg a day. Opt for low sodium or sodium-free options.
- Total carbohydrate: This gives the amount, in grams, of carbohydrate per serving and the %DV.
- Dietary fiber: Fiber is another food component most of us need more of.
- Sugars: The new label will specify total sugars and added sugars included in the total . FDA defines added sugars as sugars that are either added during the processing of foods, or are packaged as such(e.g. a bag of table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices,etc.
- Protein: Protein is important for maintaining lean body mass and to help you feel full longer.
Listed next are vitamins, again expressed as the amount per serving and %DV met by that amount. The new label will remove Vitamin A and Vitamin C and require Vitamin D,Calcium, Iron and Potassium.
Once you understand how a label works, you can make healthier choices to help meet your dietary needs and weight loss goals.