The Nutrition Facts Label is part of the mandatory information needed on all food packaging. We see, however, that they are often ignored or commonly misunderstood by the public. Nutrition labels were intended to help consumers make quick, informed decisions about their food choices, but how do you expect others to use these nutrition labels if they never learned how to read them properly?
The following are simple guides to help you make the most out of the nutrition information provided. The serving size is where it lies. The very first step is to take a look at the serving size. A sample label is shown here. Starting here is important as all the information shown on the label will be reflective of that serving size. In this sample label, we see that the serving size is 1 cup, but the entire box of macaroni & cheese holds 2 cups (Servings Per Container). This basically means that if we ate 1 cup of this product, we will eat 250 calories, but eating the entire box will cause us to eat 500 calories (250 multiplied by 2).
Beneath the calories, we find total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. These are the 5 nutrients you want to watch out for and limit in the diet. Be shy of the five. But don’t confuse this with the important nutrients such as fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, and iron – the bottom five you need to survive. Get enough of these nutrients to meet your daily recommended needs. This brings up Percent Daily Values (%DV). What are these and how does one read them? If you take a look at the footnotes of the nutrition facts label, you’ll see that the %DV are recommended levels of intake, but based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. The %DV basically helps you quickly determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient. Remember this guide: 5% or less is low; 20% or more is high. The %DV allows you to compare different food products to see which one better meets your daily recommended allowances. Having 5% or lower of saturated fat would be a good thing, while having 5% or lower of dietary fiber may not be the best choice. Keep in mind that everyone’s dietary needs are different, but the %DV nevertheless serves as a good guide.
So next time you’re at the store or checking out food packages, don’t ignore the nutrition facts! Take these easy steps to determine if that product is worth purchasing…and eating. Knowing how to the read the labels will not only help you be a keen shopper but a smart eater as well!
Feel free to check out the FDA website or other reputable resources for more information: http://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ConsumerInformation/ucm078889.htm