Making Sense of Food Labels

understanding food labels image

It seems as if every day a story is printed about some study or another with findings that sugar is the enemy, fat is the worst thing possible, certain fats are the best things ever, don’t eat this, do eat that. It’s all so confusing! Even if you can figure out what substances you should eat, how do you know what is actually in the foods you are buying?

Food labels are designed to help consumers make healthy food choices. In 1990, when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act went into effect, the USDA and the FDA developed guidelines so that consumers would have access to useful nutritional information to help make smart choices. For example,

  • If you are concerned about your weight, you should compare products based on both calories and fat.
  • If you have heart disease or high blood pressure, you should focus on the amount of total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Choose products containing less than 20% Daily Values for fat, cholesterol and sodium.
  • If you have diabetes, you should pay attention to the amount of carbohydrate, sugar added, and fiber.

But how do you make sense of a food label?

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1 – Start with the serving information at the top of the label.
This will tell you the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per container.
2 – Next, check total calories per serving.
Pay attention to the calories per serving and how many servings you’re really consuming if you eat the whole package.
3 – Limit these nutrients. Based on a 2,000 calorie diet, no more than 11-13 grams of saturated fat, as little trans fat as possible, and no more than 1,500 mg of sodium.
4 – Get enough of these nutrients – dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day.
5 – The % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount.
Food Labels and Nutrition Facts enable you to compare products based on key ingredients. When comparing products, if you know how to read the labels, you can focus on those nutrients that are important to you and fit into your healthy lifestyle.

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