How To Read Food Labels

How To Read Food Labels

The first step to a healthy meal, which would lead to a healthy diet, is to choose the right food items. A quick and easy guide to know the products of choice is the food label that is present on every package. However, many find those labels complicated and confusing, and would like to know how to use this information more effectively and easily. The following label-building skills are intended to make it easier for you to use nutrition labels to make quick, informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet.

1. The Serving Size
The first place to start is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. It is the most important reading when comparing brands.
The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Pay attention to the serving size, especially how many servings there are in the food package. Then ask yourself, ‘How many servings am I consuming?’ (e.g., 1/2 serving, 1 serving, or more?).

2. Calories (and Calories from Fat)
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food.
Remember, the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat (your portion amount).

3. The Nutrients: How Much?
The nutrients can be separated into two main groups:
a. Limit these nutrients: fat (total, saturated and trans fat), cholesterol and sodium.
Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers or high blood pressure.
b. Get enough of these nutrients: fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron
Most people don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron in their diets. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.

4. The Percent Daily Value (%DV)
The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients but only for a 2,000 calorie daily diet, not 2,500 calories. You might not know how many calories you consume a day, but you can still use the %DV as a frame of reference whether or not you consume more or less than 2,000 calories. The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient: 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high
Nutrients without a %DV: Trans Fats, Protein and Sugars:
Trans Fat: Experts could not provide a reference value for trans fat nor any other information that FDA believes is sufficient to establish a Daily Value or %DV. Scientific reports link trans fat (and saturated fat) with raising blood LDL (‘bad’) cholesterol levels, both of which increase your risk of coronary heart disease, a leading cause of death in the US. It is recommended that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
Protein: A %DV is required to be listed if a claim is made for protein, such as ‘high in protein’. Otherwise, unless the food is meant for use by infants and children under 4 years old, none is needed.
Sugars: No daily reference value has been established for sugars because no recommendations have been made for the total amount to eat in a day. Keep in mind that the sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label include naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit and milk) as well as those added to a food or drink.

5. Ingredients List
All ingredients in a food product must be listed on the label in order, from largest to smallest by weight. You can use this to spot foods that might be high in saturated fat, added salt or added sugars because these ingredients are listed in the top three. Also look out for other words on the ingredients list that flag ingredients high in saturated fat, added salt or added sugars.

Note that you must check the ingredients for items that might add to the fat, sugar or salt content without clearly mentioning it, for example: ingredients that are high in saturated fat: Animal fat, butter, milk solids, coconut, cream, sour cream. Other ingredient names for added sugar: dextrose, fructose, glucose, honey, maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup. Ingredients containing high amounts of salt: baking powder, garlic salt, yeast extract, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sodium bicarbonate, stock cubes.

In conclusion, food labels are a very useful tool when shopping and comparing products because they contain all the information about a certain product. However, informed consumers should know how to read them correctly in order to know how to properly choose the healthiest food items.

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