While it seems like nutritional experts are constantly touting the importance of food labels you may be wondering how they can work for you. While there are now labels on just about everything in the grocery store it is important to know what you can do to utilize the information.
Here is what you need to know about making food labels work for you:
• Read the entire label. Keep in mind that if you focus on only one part of the label, like calories or vitamins, you may not be getting the full story. Read through the entire label to see how much sugar or fat is in the product, for example. You need to read the entire label to get the full nutritional picture.
• Start with the serving size. Nutritional experts always recommend that you start with the serving size amount. This is so important because all the information on the rest of the label from calories to vitamins is based on that amount. Take note of how much a serving really is. Sometimes a serving size will be much less than you are used to eating so it is critical that you make sure you know how much you’re eating. The label will also list how many servings are in the entire package. Keep in mind that even things that seem like they would be a single serving, such as a bottle of juice or packet of chips, may contain more than one serving. If you eat or drink the whole thing, you are getting more vitamins and minerals, calories, sugar, fat and other stuff that you might not want.
• Look at the calories. A calorie is a way to measure how much energy a food will provide to your body. The number on the food label will show how many calories are in one serving of that food. The calories from fat number will tell you how many calories in that serving come from fat. For most people, no more than 30% of all the calories they eat in a day should come from fat. If you eat 2,000 calories a day, no more than 600 of these calories should come from fat.
• Understand the percent daily value. These are the percentages that show the amounts of nutrients an average person will get from eating one serving of a particular food. For the purposes of nutritional food labels, the government chose an “average” person as someone who needs 2,000 calories a day. For example, if the label on a particular food shows it provides 25% of vitamin D, that 25% is for a person who eats 2,000 calories a day. But there are those, like teens who are growing rapidly, who will need more calories than 2,000 per day; however, many people will need less. Keep in mind that if you need more than 2,000 calories, you may need to eat more than one serving to get the same percentage of that nutrient. If your calorie needs are fewer, you may not need to eat as much to get that same percentage of that nutrient. Whatever your caloric needs, it is still important to understand how the percent daily value amounts are based. The percent daily value amounts are based on these nutrition guidelines: 60% of calories should come from carbohydrates, 30% of calories should come from fat, with most fats coming for sources of unsaturated fats and 10% of calories should come from protein. While this can seem complicated there is an easier way to determine if a food is high in any particular nutritional value. If a food has a daily value of 5% or less of a nutrient, it is considered to be low in that nutrient. A food is a good source of a nutrient if the percent daily value falls between 10% and 19%. If the food has 20% or more of the daily value, it is then considered an excellent source of that nutrient.