Nutrition labels are a great way to make healthy food choices, and understanding the information on them is an important step to making nutritious choices for you and your family. In this blog, we will discuss the key components of a nutrition label and how to interpret them. We will also look at how to use the nutrition facts to make informed decisions about what you eat. By the end of this blog, you will have the knowledge and confidence to make healthy food choices.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) provides some useful insights into understanding and using the Nutrition Facts Labels. We will use a Modern Oats Cup as an example throughout the blog.
Step 1: Always Check the Serving Size First
The serving size is the amount of food or drink that is considered to be a single serving based on the recommended daily intake. It is important because it allows consumers to compare the nutrition facts of products and compare the nutrients they are getting in a single serving. Knowing the serving size also helps you to properly portion out your food, so you can understand how much you are consuming.
Step 2: Total Carbohydrates
The total carbohydrates on a nutrition facts label refers to the amount of carbohydrates in one serving of the food. This number includes sugar, fiber, and other complex carbohydrates. It is important to understand the total carbohydrates in a food because carbohydrates provide energy and can affect blood sugar levels.
Step 3: Choose Foods with More Fiber, Vitamins, and Minerals
It’s important to choose items that have higher dietary fiber. An increase in dietary fiber can make you have more regular bowel movements, lower your blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and help you consume fewer calories.
By consuming foods that are rich in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, one can lower the chances of acquiring illnesses such as osteoporosis, anemia, and high blood pressure. These minerals are essential for maintaining a balanced diet and keeping the body functioning properly. They help to regulate hormones, build strong bones and teeth, create energy, and keep the heart, muscles, and other organs working properly. It is important to consume the right amounts of each mineral, as deficiencies or an excess of any one can cause serious health problems.
Step 4: Choose Foods with Lower Calories, Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Added Sugars.
Calories provide the amount of energy that you are getting in one serving. In this example, since the serving size is one, if you eat the full container, you would be eating 230 calories. Now let’s say this container happened to be 2 servings, then if you ate the full container, you would be eating 460 calories.
The general guide for nutrition advice recommends having 2,000 calories a day. However, this is a general amount, and your calorie intake may vary based upon your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. Avoid eating too many calories, as this can lead to being overweight and obesity.
Find out your daily calorie intake and get your personal food plan to set you up for success: https://www.myplate.gov/myplate-plan
Saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars are important for determining the overall nutritional quality of a food item. Saturated fat is a type of fat that can raise cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease when consumed in large amounts, so it is important for consumers to be aware of the amount of saturated fat in their food.
Sodium can be linked to high blood pressure, so it is important to know how much sodium a food contains. Lastly, added sugars can contribute to obesity and other health complications, so it is important to be aware of the amount of added sugars in a food item.
What is the difference between total sugars and added sugars?
Total sugars include sugars already present in foods and drinks including added sugars.
Added sugars are the sugars that are added during the processing of the foods, foods packaged as sweeteners, sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices.
For example: The Modern Oats Cup has 12 grams of added sugar and only 1 gram of natural sugar.
Step 4: Avoid Trans Fat
Trans fat is a type of fat that is created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it solid. It is often used as a preservative in processed food products. Trans fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, as it increases levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the blood. For this reason, it is recommended to avoid trans fats as much as possible. Here’s a few examples of food items high in trans-fat:
Baked goods including cakes, pies, crusts, biscuits, etc.
By understanding the nutrition facts, you can decide if the food is right for you and your dietary needs. Knowing how to read a nutrition food label can help you lead a healthier lifestyle and make informed decisions about the food you eat.