A nutrition facts label is designed to help you make healthy food choices, and knowing how to read nutritional labels gives you the power to quickly compare products and choose ones that have nutritional values that meet your needs as part of a well-balanced diet. The following is an overview about how to decipher the food labels you see every day.
There are five key components to nutrition labels: serving size, calories, nutrients, %DV, and footnote. Each of these parts offers valuable information about the food product and helps you determine how the food fits into your diet as you strive to meet your personal nutritional needs.
1. Serving Size
One of the most important healthy eating tips is portion control, and paying attention to a food’s serving size is the key to moderation. The serving size is listed at the top of the nutritional label and tells you what a standard serving size is for that particular product. This makes it easier to compare similar products and to keep track of how many servings you are consuming.
Calories measure how much energy you gain from a serving of food. Eating more calories than your body burns can lead to weight gain, so keeping track of calorie intake is important. In this section of the nutrition label, you will also find how many calories in the food are from fat content. Often, the more fat calories in the product, the less nutritious the product is overall. As a general rule, foods that have 40 calories or less per serving are considered low calorie foods, items with 100 calories per serving are moderate, and foods that have 400 calories or more per serving are high calorie foods.
This section of the label lists all of the nutrients that are found in the food and how much of each is found in a serving. The first three listed are always fat, cholesterol, and sodium. A healthy diet should limit all three, especially saturated fat and trans fat. The nutrients that follow these, including varying items like dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron, are all nutrients that are a necessary part of a well-balanced diet and found in antioxidant rich foods. Care should be taken to get the proper amount of these each day.
These numbers in the column farthest to the right on the label indicate how much of each nutrient a particular food will supply in a daily diet of 2,000 calories. 5% of a nutrient is considered low, while the 20% range is optimal for vitamins and minerals.
The footnote at the bottom of the nutritional information typically shows either how a diet with more or less than 2,000 calories would alter the %DV for key nutrients or compares the standard amounts of certain components for diets of 2,000 or 2,500 calories.
Take the mystery out of healthy eating by taking the time to read nutrition labels. A little research can go a long way toward good eating habits.