Understanding the Nutrition Label

The print may be small, but the nutrition label on packaged foods has a BIG serving of important information when it comes to making healthy choices.

Looking at a nutrition label is just one way to get to a healthier diet. The more you know, the better you can eat, and the healthier you will feel.

Nutrition labels can sometimes be difficult to understand, so here’s what you need to know:

  1. Start with the serving size.
    It’s important to realize that many suggested serving sizes are much smaller than what we actually consume, so be realistic when counting calories and nutrients. For instance, the serving size of macaroni and cheese is just one cup, and the amounts on the nutrition label reflect just that amount. If you eat the entire box, you’ll need to double all of the values on the label.
  2. Check out the calorie count.
    The calories on the nutrition label are a measurement of the amount of energy you get from one serving of that food. If you are looking to lose weight, you might want to count your calories to make sure you’re burning more each week through exercise than you’re taking in through food and drinks.
  3. Notice the nutrients.
    The middle part of the label indicates the nutrients (good and bad) that are in the food. The first three should be consumed in limited quantities – fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Experts agree that limiting the intake of these nutrients will help reduce the risk of health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and even some cancers. The rest of the nutrients, like Vitamin A, Calcium, and Iron are important nutrients that should be consumed generously.
  4. Don’t forget the footnote.
    The footnote beneath the nutrition label helps give a better understanding about how to get a complete and balanced diet. The percent daily value found next to each nutrient is based on a 2,000 or 2,500-calorie-per-day diet. The footnote section explains the amounts of each nutrient that should be consumed every day. This information, based on the FDA’s recommendations for a healthy diet, is the same on every product.
  5. Don’t ignore the ingredients.
    The ingredients list is a helpful way to determine just how healthy your food it. Look for ingredients that you recognize and don’t sound like they were created in a lab. Keep in mind that the ingredient list is in descending order, so the first item on the list is the one most dominant.

Looking at a nutrition label is just one way to get to a healthier diet. The more you know, the better you can eat, and the healthier you will feel.