“Really, the most nutritious foods are found without labels, like
fruits and vegetables,” says Renee Greene, Wellness Dietition at
Health First Center. “But if you find yourself in the grocery store reaching for pre-packaged
food, it’s important to understand what’s inside and whether
or not it’s good for you.” The Nutrition Facts Label is required
by the government to inform the public about the ingredients, calories,
serving size and amounts of certain nutrients. But are you able to interpret
the information to make healthy choices?
Here are a few tips from Renee on how to read and understand the Nutrition
Is the serving size right for you? Start by looking at the amount listed
as the serving size. It’s important to know how much you actually
eat compared to the number of servings in a package. If the serving size
is ½ of a snack sized bag of chips and you eat the whole bag, you
are consuming twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.
Next, determine the calories you are getting based on what you will eat.
You may want to eat less than the serving size to save calories, if you
are trying to lose weight.
Use the percent Daily Values (DV) to help you decide if a food fits into
your meal plan. The percent daily values are the amount of nutrients for
a person consuming 2,000 calories each day. Do you eat more or less than
2,000 calories a day? Depending on your answer, some nutrients you may
need more or less than 100 percent DV.
A low DV is 5% or less. Aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Eating less of these can reduce your risk
for heart disease. So, eat foods that have low amounts of these items.
A high DV is 20% or more. Aim high in fiber, vitamins and minerals. Choose
more fruits, vegetables and whole grains to get more of these nutrients
and maintain good health.
What About Protein, Carbohydrates, and Sugars?
Protein sources are: meats, cheese, eggs, milk and plant based foods. Protein
is necessary as part of a healthy diet, but make sure to choose lean and
low fat sources to avoid added fat and calories. Lean proteins are lower
in fat grams (3 rams or less per ounce) and calories.
Carbohydrates are found in fruits, dairy and grains. Choose whole grain
breads, cereals, rice and pasta, plus low fat dairy and plenty of fruits.
If a product label says “100% whole grain,” it must contain
at least 16 grams of whole grain per serving. A person who consumes 2,000
calories a day should have at least 48 grams of whole grains each day.
Sugars are either found naturally in foods, like fruit or milk, or they
are added to food, like corn syrup.
Choose foods that are low in
added sugars. To determine if added sugars are in the product, check the ingredients
list for these added-sugar words: added sugars (brown, confectioner’s,
powdered, turbinado, cane, date, ivert), sucrose, ploydextrose, fructose,
maltose, dextrose, syrup (corn, high fructose corn, maple, agave), honey,
molasses and agave nectar. If you see any of these words among the first
few ingredients on the list, then the food is high in added sugars.
Read the ingredients section on the food label. Ingredients are listed
by weight. So, the first ingredient is the highest amount in the food.
Keep in mind that foods with fewer ingredients are less processed. This
section is also helpful in identifying food allergens and for those wanting
to avoid a particular ingredient.
Nutrient Content Claims:
Reduced-fat means the food or drink has at least 25% less fat per serving
than a comparable regular food or drink. However, it may not be a low-fat food.
Low-fat means the food or drink has 3 grams or less of fat per serving.
Fat-free mean the food or drink has less than ½ gram of fat per serving.
Trans fat-free means the food or drink has less than ½ gram of
trans fat per serving. The Nutrition Facts panel on the label will list 0 grams
trans fat for any food with less than ½ gram of
trans fat per serving. So, check the ingredients list for hydrogenated or partially
Light can mean the food or drink has at least 1/3 fewer calories per serving
than a comparable regular food or drink, or it can mean the food or drink
has at least 50% less fat per serving than a comparable regular food or
drink. However, it may not be low in calories.
Reduced-calorie means the food or drink has at least 25% fewer calories
per serving than a comparable regular food or drink. Again, it may not
be low in calories.
Sugar-free means the food or drink has less than ½ gram of sugar
Understanding how these components work together is important to your overall
health. Talk to your doctor about the appropriate calorie intake for you
and for further questions about your nutritional health.