The Nutrition Facts Label, printed on the sides of most packaged foods can be daunting. Most people have difficulty deciding where start or what ingredients are most important to pay attention to. In this post Purely Nourished will break down labels in a simple, easy to understand manner.
Start at the serving size. Without this important information, the rest of the info is worthless. Check to see how many servings are included in the package. The serving size influences the number of calories and nutrient amounts listed on the label. Make a conscious decision about the number of servings you will be consuming and go from there.
Calories and calories from fat are the measures of how much energy you will be receiving from a serving of this food, twice as much if you are consuming two serving sizes. To determine the amount of calories you will be consuming, multiply the number of calories by the amount of serving sizes you are planning to have. Calories from fat determines the number of calories you will be taking in from fat. This section is necessary if you are trying to decrease your fat intake. There is a recommended percentage of calories from fat, protein, and carbohydrate that you should consume daily. The calories from fat are the most important to pay attention to.
As calories are concerned, a food with 40 or less is low, 100 is moderate, and 400 and above is considered to be high.
Nutrients found in the package are listed below the calories. They include fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein. Subcategories of the total fat are saturated, unsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats, while sugar and fiber are the subcategories of carbohydrates. Fat, cholesterol, and sodium are usually already consumed in adequate amounts in the diet. Try to limit these nutrients, paying extra attention to leaving out the saturated and trans fats. All three of these nutrients may increase the risk of chronic disease if consumed in high amounts on a regular basis. As for carbohydrates, most people don’t get enough dietary fiber, but more than enough sugar. Eating a diet high in fiber promotes healthy bowel and digestive function. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains contributes to adequate amounts of fiber and a reduction in the risk of heart disease. While increasing your intake of fiber, try to keep you intake of sugar low. Protein levels should be around 35% of daily your daily caloric intake. Vegetarians and vegans usually need to be more conscious of the protein levels, as they are more likely to be deficient.
Vitamins and Minerals are located in a small rectangular box below the nutrient list. These include Vitamin A, Calcium, Vitamin C, and Iron. Unfortunately, by eating processed and packaged foods we are not obtaining adequate amounts of these vitamins. Pay attention to the foods that are high in these vitamins and minerals and try to incorporate those foods in your diet on a daily basis.
Below vitamins and minerals there is a footnote that tells you the percent daily values based on a 2000 and 2500 calorie diet. It gives you the total gram amounts for each nutrient depending on the specific calorie diet. In my opinion, this section is not very useful because no two people are expected to thrive off the same diet. In the past it was determined that most people fare best on a 2000 calorie diet. In this day and age, caloric intake is determined by body size and activity level, therefore no two people are the same. Stay tuned for a later post where I break down specific caloric needs and how to determine your % daily values based on your specific caloric needs.
The percent daily value (%DV) is based on the recommendations for a 2000 calorie diet. Percent daily values are great to understand but not necessary to look at when deciding on a meal. The %DV helps you determine if a food is high or low in a specific nutrient. It puts grams of nutrients on a 100% scale where you can see how close you are to obtaining adequate amounts of that nutrient.
Last but not least, read the ingredient label. This list tells you what exactly is in the package. The ingredients that are in the greatest concentrations will be listed first, while the ingredients in lesser amounts will be listed towards the end. Strive for five or less ingredients and make sure they are all identifiable. Stay away from high fructose corn syrup!
- Know your serving size,
- Limit your total fat, especially trans and saturated versions
- Maintain low intakes of cholesterol and sodium
- Up your fiber consumption
- Decrease your sugar
- Read the ingredient label and stay away from long lists and unpronounceable names
With all said, the easiest way to get low calorie, nutrient dense foods is by eating un-packaged whole foods such as fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Limit your intake of packaged foods whenever you can.