Understanding Nutrition Labels: How to Read the Facts

Understanding the labels on the back of food products can help you to make wise decisions when it comes to your diet and meal planning. Unfortunately, many of us do not know what to look for when it comes to food labels. Here are the most common elements of a nutritional label and what you need t understand:

Serving Size. The serving size is the first thing you will see on a nutritional label. Why? Everything underneath of the serving size is based on just one serving. The Food and Drug Administration sets serving sizes for foods based on measurements – including total calories and total calories from fat. Perhaps the most important thing to understand about serving size is that the label is only providing you with nutritional information for one serving size. Should you double your intake, you will need to double the calories, fat and other contents of the product.

Percent of Daily Value. This is important when it comes to planning a healthy, well-balanced diet. This percentage is calculated based on a fairly sedentary man or a moderately active woman. This man or woman consumes a diet of 2,000 calories per day.

Fats. Nutritional labels break down the fat found in one individual serving size. Fats are broken down by saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fats. When looking for healthy meal options, you want foods that contain low levels of saturated and trans fats. Healthy foods will contain higher levels of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats.

Cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fat-like chemical that is an essential component of the cell membrane. You will only find cholesterol in a product is it is an animal product. To avoid high cholesterol, adults should limit their daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams. Too much cholesterol can increase your risk for developing heart disease.

Sodium. The recommended dietary allowance for the average adult is 2,300 milligrams daily. Going overboard on the salt can ultimately lead to high blood pressure. A food is considered to be low in sodium is it comes less than 140 milligrams. Often times, soups and frozen meals will contain sodium levels that are nearly half of your daily limit.

Potassium. Getting enough potassium is important in maintaining a regular heart beat and preventing high blood pressure. Adults should consume 4,700 milligrams of potassium per day.

Total Carbohydrates. You may notice that the total carbohydrate section of a food label may seem a little on the large size. This is because total carbohydrates include all types of carbs including healthy carbs (whole grains) and not-so-healthy carbs (sugars and refined carbohydrates).

Dietary Fibers. It is recommended that adults consume between 21 and 35 grams of fiber on a daily basis. However, a majority of adults to do receive the recommended amount of dietary fiber. When buying products, such as bread, look for products with three or more grams of dietary fiber per serving. Depending on the food label you are looking at, some manufacturers may break down fibers in categories of soluble or insoluble. Both of these fibers are important to your diet. Soluble fibers (oatmeal, dried beans and barley) are beneficial in helping to lower your cholesterol levels. Insoluble fibers (fruits, vegetables and whole grains) help to aid in the digestion process and protect you from various bowel disorders.

Sugar. Sugars are simply carbohydrates that include glucose, fructose, dextrose and galatose. Sugars provide little nutritional value. However, you’d be surprised at where sugars show up. You may find sugars in foods you deemed to be healthy, such as crackers or healthy cereals. Sugar is often added to products for flavor. Just because a product is not sweet, does not mean sugar is not present.

Protein. It is recommended that you consume .45 grams of protein per body weight. Generally speaking, most Americans get plenty of protein. It is rare for an individual eating a normal diet not to get enough protein.

Vitamins and Minerals. Food labels will include a list of vitamins and minerals that are found naturally in the food product. A label will also indicate whether or not any vitamins or minerals have been added to the product. A label will also indicate the percentage of daily value for each vitamin and mineral based off of a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

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