Ideally, making your own fresh nutritious meal is the healthiest thing to do but not everyone has the time to do that every time they eat. People still buy frozen or canned foods that they can just pop in the microwave to have a quick meal.
Consumers have become more mindful of their health and are carefully choosing the food they buy. This made some food manufacturers use deceiving tactics in their nutritional labels that make buyers think that what they are getting are healthy and nutritious products.
Learning how to read, understand, and know what the Nutrition Facts label means will help you make better and healthier food choices.
The label reading tips below will help you easily read food labels and make wise decisions in choosing a healthy diet:
When checking a Nutritional Facts label, look at the serving size and the number of servings first. The serving sizes for similar products are standardized so you can easily compare them and choose the best that suits your needs. The units provided are also the same such as pieces or cups and followed by the equal amount in metric measurement such as grams (g). The serving size shows the quantity that consumers usually drink or eat. It’s not the suggested amount that you should consume.
It’s essential for you to understand that all the nutritional information printed on the label makes reference to the serving size. You should always be on the look out for the serving size and the number of servings. In our sample label, one serving is ⅔ cup so if you consumed 2 cups then that would mean you ate 3 servings so everything will be times three.
This part of the label shows how many calories are there in one serving of the product. In the example we have, there are 230 calories in every ⅔ cup. So if you ate all 8 servings in the container that means you consumed 1,840 calories.
Caloric needs differ according to age, weight, height, sex, and level of physical activity. 2,000 calories a day is generally used as the standard caloric intake needed to keep a healthy weight. Studies have shown that consuming more calories than your body needs lead to weight gain. You can use this Calorie Calculator to check how many calories you need per day.
This section shows you the essential nutrients included in the product that can greatly affect your health. Use your label-reading knowledge to look out for foods that include more of the nutrients you need and avoid those you are allergic to or don’t need much of.
The total fat section displays how many grams of fat a serving contains. This part of the label may contain subcategories which are the different types of fats a food product may contain. These are saturated fat, trans fat, monounsaturated fat, and polyunsaturated fat. If any of these is included in the list then the amount in grams per serving will be listed. Always remember monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are fats that are good for the body while saturated fat and trans fat are not good for your health. Consume good fats and avoid or limit eating foods that contain bad fat.
Right after the fat section, you will find the Cholesterol section. This section of the label shows the amount of cholesterol contained in one serving.
Under cholesterol is the Sodium section. This section displays the total amount of sodium the food product has per serving.
After sodium comes Total Carbohydrates. This section shows how many carbohydrates are there in one serving. There are two subcategories here which are Dietary Fibers and Total Sugars. Having a diet high in fibers can help reduce cholesterol levels, blood sugar, calorie intake, and improve bowel movement.
You can also find Added Sugars under Total Sugars. Total Sugars are naturally occurring sugars found in many nutritious foods like fruits and drinks like milk. Added sugars on the other hand are sugars that were added when the product was being processed. This could be dextrose, sucrose, honey, or other sweeteners used in processing food.
In our sample label, you will see that the word “Includes” comes before the Added Sugars. This means that the Added Sugars are included in the Total Sugars per serving of the food product. Looking at our sample label, it indicates that out of the 12 grams Total Sugars, 10 grams are Added Sugars so the naturally occurring sugars contained in the product is only 2 grams.
This section shows the amount of protein contained in one serving.
Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium are nutrients that you should get more of. Consuming these nutrients frequently can help reduce the risk of developing certain diseases.
% Daily Value
The Percent Daily Value or %DV indicates the Daily Value percentage per serving of each nutrient. It shows how much nutrients in one serving are contributed to your total daily diet and helps you identify if the nutrient contained is good or bad or not enough for your diet.
The information you see on the label is based on a 2,000 calorie per day and not everyone needs this many calories a day. Your calorie intake will depend on your age, gender, level of physical activity, and whether you are trying to maintain, lose or gain weight.
What you should also watch out for
Often there are health claims printed on food packages and as a person concerned with what you eat, it’s essential to know what these health claims really mean. Here are some common health claims on food packages:
- Low calorie or Low cal - the product contains 40 calories or less per serving
- Low cholesterol - with 20 mg cholesterol or less and 2 grams saturated fat or less
- Reduced - contains at least 25% less of a specific nutrient or calories than similar products
- God source of - contains at least 10-19 percent of the DV of a nutrient or vitamin per serving
- Excellent source of - contains 20% or more of the DV of a nutrient or vitamin per serving
- Calorie-free - has less than 5 calories per serving
- Sugar-free or fat-free - contains less than 0.5 gram of sugar or fat per serving.
- Low sodium - contains 140 mg of sodium or less per serving
- High in - contains 20% or more of the DV of a nutrient per serving
- High fiber - contains 5 grams of fiber or more
Knowing how to read the Nutritional Facts label will help you read easily, choose, and decide which product is best for your diet.