Health and Wellness: Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label

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Anyone who eats has to make decisions about food. To maintain a healthy body, it is important that we make the choice to eat in a healthy way. To help us understand what we are putting into our bodies, prepackaged foods include Nutrition Facts labels designed to highlight important information about the nutrients and ingredients in food products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in charge of the information included and presented in these standardized labels. It’s important to know how to read these nutrition labels to understand the value of the foods we eat.

Serving Sizes

Nutrition Facts labels provide information about the serving size, which is the recommended ballpark amount of the food that people eat at one time. You’ll also find information about the number of servings contained in the total package. As you eat the food, you’ll need to pay attention to your portion size as it relates to the serving size. For example, if a serving size is one cup, but you eat one-half cup, you’ll be getting half of the calories and nutrients listed on the label.

Learn About Calories

Check the Nutrition Facts label to learn the number of calories you’ll be eating if you eat a single serving of a food product. Calories are the measurement of energy you put in your body by consuming the food item. Nutrition labels also list the number of calories from fat per serving. In general, a food label listing 40 calories would be considered low, 100 calories would be moderate, and 400+ calories or more would be considered high, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. For overall health, it’s smart to be aware of and manage the number of calories you eat each day.

Percent Daily Values

The percentage of daily recommended values (% Daily Value) listed also helps us make food choices. Percent daily values correspond to the full day, not for individual meals or snacks. They are also average levels based on the consumption of 2,000 calories per day. So, for example, a prepackaged snack that has a 10% daily value of fat contains 10% of the total amount of fat that would be recommended for a person eating 2,000 calories per day. Because nutritional needs may vary, daily caloric intake, calorie consumption, might be higher or lower than 2,000 calories. It’s also possible that your body needs more or less than the percent daily value of various nutrients.

Read Nutritional Terms

Nutrition Facts labels contain a variety of nutrition terms. An item can be termed as “low cholesterol” if it contains 20 milligrams or less and 2 grams or less of saturated fat for each serving. A nutrient may be labeled as “reduced” if it has at least 25 percent less of this nutrient than what would be considered usual. If a product has less than 5 calories per serving, it can be labeled as “calorie-free.” If a product has less than 0.5 grams of fat or sugar, it can be labeled as fat- or sugar-free. Foods with 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving qualify as “low sodium.” Manufacturers can also claim that a food is “high” in a nutrient if it has 20% or more of the daily value for a nutrient per serving. A food might also be said to be a “good source” of a nutrient if it has at least 10-19% of the daily value of a nutrient per serving.

Choose Healthy Options

To improve both physical and dental health, make healthy food choices based on the information presented in Nutrition Facts labels. Reducing added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat can help reduce the risk for many diseases, such as heart disease and high blood pressure. Look for foods that are high in Vitamin D, calcium, iron, potassium, and fiber for optimal health. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to increase your intake of nutrients.

Consider Additional Nutrients

Prepackaged foods with more than one ingredient need to list the ingredients on the label in descending order by weight. This means that the ingredients in the highest quantity are listed first. The nutrition label will also provide information about additional ingredients, such as protein, carbohydrates, and sugars. Labels don’t have to provide a specific percent daily value for protein, but if you eat moderate portions of poultry, fish, lean meat, dairy products, beans, peas, seeds, and soy products, you should get plenty of protein. Carbohydrates divide into sugars, starches, and fiber categories. Strive to eat plenty of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to get beneficial carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are sugars. These sugars might occur naturally as fructose, or they could also be sucrose or lactose. Added sugars are included in nutrition facts labels, and the current dietary guidelines recommend that people consume no more than 10 percent of their daily calorie allotment in added sugars.

More Resources to Learn About Health and Nutrition

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