The Facts Behind Food Labels

From serving size to daily nutrients, food nutrition labels contain important information you need to know to make healthier food choices, reach your weight-loss goals, and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
How To read a Food label

Serving Size Information

At the top of the food nutrition label you’ll see the amount of a single serving size and the total amount of servings in the box, can, or container. The serving size is typically provided in cups or pieces and impacts the number of calories listed. For example, a serving size of heart-healthy almonds is 23 pieces and a serving size of whole grain brown rice is one-half cup.

%  Daily Value

On the right side of the food nutrition label, the percentage of each nutrient in a serving is listed. The percentages are based off of the daily 2,000 calorie diet and the recommended amount of nutrients listed at the bottom of the food nutrition label.

Calories

Next, you’ll notice the calories per serving. Calories tell you how much energy you consume. Knowing the calories per serving can help you manage your weight by balancing your intake and the energy you use. Remember that the calories listed are for a single serving. If you go back for seconds, it’s double the calories. A double serving of mashed potatoes changes from 214 calories to 428.

Total Fat

You should limit your intake of saturated and trans fats. Based on the 2,000 calorie diet per day, you shouldn’t consume more than 11 to 13 grams of saturated fat daily and as little trans fat as possible. Beans, peas, fruits and whole grains are some foods low in fat. Cook them with canola or olive oil instead of solid fats like butter to keep the fat content low. Keep in mind that some foods may be listed as having zero grams of trans fat per serving because of a loophole that allows food with .5 grams to be listed as zero.

Sodium and Cholesterol

Consuming too much sodium and cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. High amounts of these nutrients may also be a sign of a highly processed food—which are not good for you. The FDA recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium and no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. If you have diabetes, high cholesterol or heart disease, you shouldn’t consume more than 200 milligrams of cholesterol per day.

The Good Stuff

Dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, calcium, iron and protein are the nutrients you should consume more of. Eating more of these key nutrients can help maintain your health as you age. For instance:

  • Calcium can reduce your risk of brittle bones.
  • Fiber promotes healthy bowel function and reduces your risk of heart disease.
  • Vitamin C reduces your risk of cardiovascular disease, eye diseases and wrinkled skin.
  • Protein helps repair your muscles after your workout and is essential to strong bones, muscles and cartilage.

Check food nutrition labels to know what you’re eating and to make better choices at the grocery store.

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