You know it’s important to read the labels on the food you buy because they reveal whether or not your choice is healthy, but honestly, a nutrition label can be confusing. There’s a breadth of information on each one, and applying it to its impact on your diet can be complicated. The following tips will help you decipher the language of nutrition labels so you can feel more confident with your choices and keep your healthy eating habits on track.
Even if the food item you choose is “healthy,” ingesting all of it at once can quickly negate its health factor. Your first check on the nutrition label: the “serving size.” This will help you set the correct portion as it states how many servings are in the package. Once you know the serving size, you can calculate how many extra calories and nutrients you’ll be ingesting if you eat more than the recommended serving, as everything, the good and the bad, will multiply.
Just like with a book, you shouldn’t judge a packaged food item by its cover. An item that looks healthy may be loaded with too much of a diet-busting nutrient such as saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol. According to FamilyDoctor.org, less than 200 grams of cholesterol a day should be included in an average adult’s diet if he is suffering from heart disease, and adults who do not suffer from the ailment should consume less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol each day. Trans fat, which everyone should avoid completely, can be tricky on a nutrition label.
“Keep in mind, companies can list 0 grams if it contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving. This means that your food may have trans fat even if the nutrition label says 0. Check the ingredients list for trans fat products. This includes any hydrogenated vegetable oils. Trans fat often is found in baked goods, fried foods, snack foods and margarine,” reports FamilyDoctor.org.
Then there’s the sweet and salty — high amounts of sugar and sodium are diet no-nos. Too much of the good-tasting stuff will sabotage your health and nutrition.
Once you’ve identified the bad, it’s time to look for the good nutrients that will fuel your body and provide you with energy. These include choline, calcium, iron, magnesium, dietary fiber, vitamins such as A, C, D and E, and potassium.
Percentage Daily Value
Seeing what’s in a food item is not enough to determine if it’s the right choice for your healthy diet. You should also examine the Percent Daily Value of each nutrient listed on the label to see how it affects your daily diet. Most labels determine the Percentage Daily Value based on a 2,000-calorie diet and break down each nutrient into how it factors into one serving of the food.
“For example, if the labels lists 15 percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides 15 percent of the calcium you need each day,” according to Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D on MayoClinic.org.
Before you throw a food item into your grocery cart, take a good look at its nutrition label to make sure it boasts the right nutrients. By understanding what’s in your food, you can make smart choices that support your health and nutrition goals.
*The information provided in this article should not or does not replace the opinion of a medical professional. Always seek the advice of a medical health professional when making decisions about your health and nutrition.