Before I started studying nutrition, I don’t think I ever looked at a Nutrition Facts Label. I thought it was because I didn’t care about the numbers and percentages on it, but really, I didn’t know what I was looking at. I mentioned last week some of the important things on a label (and hopefully some of you took a peek at one over the past week) but I wanted to explain it more clearly. That little box full of lines and numbers not only has meaning, but can easily help you make better food choices.
A label has many different categories, and though they’re all important, I’ll just focus on a few.
Servings: The serving size lets you know the amount of food that all the information is based on. This section also tells you how many servings are in a package (most food items have more than one serving per package).
Calories: This number states the amount of calories that your body will get from one serving of the food. You now know, that not all calories are equal and you should keep this in mind when looking at the rest of the label (having more calories with more vitamins might be better than have less calories and no vitamins).
Total Fat: Fat comes in two basic forms: unsaturated and saturated. A label will give you the total fat and the saturated fat, but subtracting the saturated fat from the total fat will give you the unsaturated fat. A good rule of thumb is to eat more unsaturated fats, they are the healthier choice. Some labels will also list Trans-Fat, and the less of it you eat, the better.
Cholesterol: The thing about cholesterol is that our body makes it on its own, so we don’t need too much coming from our food. When we do get it in food, it will always come from animal products (vegetables are naturally cholesterol-free). For those of you worried about your cholesterol, looking at this number is most important in keeping your heart healthy. Doctors say that eating less than 200mg a day is best for the average person.
Sodium: This number is most important for those of you worried about high blood pressure. The American diet has a very high level of salt, so choosing items with less of it, even just once a day, can help make the biggest difference in your health. The recommended intake for salt is 2400 mg a day.
Total Carbohydrates: Like fat, carbs are also broken down into categories on a label: fiber and sugar. Those of you with diabetes can help control your insulin by spreading out your carb intake (ask your doctors for more info, if you’re interested!). When it comes to fiber, anything from 3-5g or higher, is considered great (and remember fiber can help lower cholesterol!). Sugars, though they are super tasty, should be limited whenever possible.
Vitamins & Minerals: I mentioned last week some of the vitamins and minerals that are listed on a label. No matter which are on the label you’re reading, the advice is always the same: the more the better!
Though this is a ton of information, I feel that it is important for you guys to have it. Companies are required by law to put this info on their food for a reason, but no one is required to teach us how to use it. So whether or not you’re ready to take the next step toward a better lifestyle, here is the know-how. Use some of it, all of it, or none of it, but next time you pick up a snack, look at the label and see what you can read.
Be sure to ask your doctor about any question you have before making a drastic change in your diet.