The Food and Drug Administration requires all companies who package food to include nutritional labels on the packaging. While the labels are meant to be easy for everyone to read, they can be confusing and tricky at times. Here are some tips about how to correctly read a nutrition label.
- Serving Size-Nutrition labels are perhaps the most confusing when it comes to serving size. The main thing to keep in mind is that the label does not base its numbers on the entire package. Instead, the numbers and percentages are based on what is considered a serving size. The very top of a label will tell you how much is in one serving and how many servings are in the package. For example, a 20 oz. beverage really has about 2.5 servings in the entire container. If you sit down and drink the entire thing, you need to multiply all of the numbers on the label by 2.5 in order to figure out how much you have had.
- Calories-The Calories section is broken up into two parts: Calories and Calories from fat. "Calories" is the total amount of Calories in one serving. The Calories from fat tell you how many of the total Calories are from fat in the food. Remember that these numbers do not tell you how many calories are in the entire package. These are Calories in one serving, so you will need to multiply that number by however many servings there are to find out how many Calories total are in the package.
- % Daily Value-This section of the label tells you what percent of the recommended daily allowance you are getting from one serving. The recommended daily allowance is based on a 2000 Calorie per day diet. If you eat more or less than 2000 Calories in one day, these numbers will need to be recalculated to fit your needs. Your goal is to reach 100% of all of the items listed on the box to maintain a healthy diet. Going over the allowance may eventually be harmful to your health.
- Saturated vs. Trans Fat-The total fat part of the label is broken down into two parts: saturated fat and trans fat. Both saturated fat and trans fat can raise your cholesterol levels and lead to heart problems if too much are consumed. Trans fat is worse than saturated fat, however, because it is added fat from frying or processing whereas saturated fat is "natural" fat found in animal products.
- Ingredients --This section explains what is used to make the product. This part of the label is a good place to start, especially if you are allergic to some ingredients. Ingredients are listed in the order of how much is used in the product from most to least. Be aware of hidden sugars in the form of syrup, fructose, sucrose, or any combination. Any ingredient that includes "chloride" is most likely some form of salt, so if you are instructed to reduce your salt intake, stay away from those products.
Understanding how to read a nutrition label is the first step to a healthy diet. Cutting back on Calories, fat, and cholesterol can help you lose weight and reduce potential future health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. Informed eating habits and regular exercise can give you a long, healthy life.