How to Understand Nutritional Labels

Learn how to understand nutritional labels to promote the best eating habits possible.
by Updated February 24, 2010

Nutritional labels were developed in order for the consumer to understand what was in the food that they ate – in an effort to control to growing obesity epidemic and the rising cost of healthcare due to bad eating choices.  To properly understand exactly what you are putting into your body, you need to be able to look at nutritional labels and decide whether it should be added to your diet or not.

Let’s look at the 5 key areas to understand at when reading a nutritional label.

1.  Serving Size – In order to get a proper understanding of exactly how much of what is in your food, you need to know the serving size and the total amount of servings per product. This will help you serve correct portions to match the actual nutritional information. If you use double servings, you must take care to also double the nutrient amounts on the labeling also.

2. Calories – Calories are units of energy and allow us to provide a measure of how much energy you get from one serving of a particular food. With the calorie count, we can effectively monitor our calorie intake to help us lose weight, gain weight, or simply maintain our weight. Roughly 3,500 calories creates one pound of body weight so you can reduce your weekly calorie intake by this amount, which translates to about 500 calories each day, to help drop a pound a week.

3.  Fat – Fat is one of the major nutrients and is essential for growth, healthy skin, helps protect vital organs, and regulates major body functions. Fat is considered essential because it needs to be included in your diet, however, healthy fats such as omega-6 and monounsaturated should be consumed in moderation and others, such as trans-fatty acids should be extremely limited or eliminated permanently. Aim for less than 60g of fat as your recommended daily intake.

4.  Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the body primary and preferred source of energy and comes from food products such as grains, fruits, and vegetables. Fiber is generally added to the carbohydrate category and is listed directly underneath it. Fiber comes from carbohydrate based food and helps with naturally cleaning your digestive system. Aim for less than 300g of carbohydrates per day and a minimum of 25g of fiber (which counts towards your 300g).

5.  Vitamins and Minerals – Towards the bottom of the nutritional label, you might see a listing of vitamins and minerals and a corresponding %DV, meaning the value per serving of your daily allotted intake. Try to incorporate foods which will make these values ultimately add up to 100% for optimal nutrition.

Understanding nutritional labels is not a difficult thing to do once you know what everything means. It can help you make better eating choices and hopefully, create better knowledge of what you should be eating.



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