How To Read A Nutrition Label

By:    Published: October 12, 2011

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When shopping for food or beverages, labels like "Reduced Fat!" or "Calcium Enriched!" are commonly seen. Manufacturers will do anything to entice shoppers to buy their product, and foods that give off the impression that they are healthy are just as attractive as bargain foods, especially when they offer great health benefits without sacrificing anything in taste. For example, think of a bag of chocolate-chip, oatmeal cookies with front labels claiming they are low fat, and a significant source of whole-grains. Those words just jump out at consumers, causing them to buy the product without really looking up the nutrition facts.

Luckily, a nutrition facts label is required on most packaged foods in many countries throughout the world. This helps consumers get the nutrition information they really need before eating or drinking a certain product. By reading and understanding the nutrition facts label, consumers can select the most nutritional products, while avoiding the health risks associated with unhealthy food products. The problem is, most people either don't know how to read nutrition facts labels, or don't bother reading them at all. Why read a nutrition label when the front of the packaging already claims the product has 75 percent less fat? Well, a quick lesson on how to read nutrition labels might make you think twice about eating something just because it makes you think it is a healthy food option.

Serving Size

The most common mistake people make when reading nutrition labels is ignoring the serving size. The nutrition information provided on the nutrition label is influenced by the serving size, and below the serving size information is the amount of servings per container. If a nutrition label states a bag of chips has 100 calories, that number is in relation to a "per serving" basis. If the servings per container are 10 servings, the calorie content for the entire bag of chips is actually 1000 calories.

Calories

The next thing people will notice on a nutrition label is the calorie content. Nutrition labels also show how much of the total calories per serving are obtained from fat. Don't be alarmed by the two calorie readings on the nutrition label, they are not meant to be added together to get the total calorie content. Do be alarmed by the amount of calories one serving may contain if the calorie reading on the nutrition label is high. A chocolate bar may only have 100 calories per serving, but there may be four servings per bar. That means you are actually consuming 400 calories if you decide to eat the entire chocolate bar. Keeping track of the calorie content in your foods will help you avoid eating too many calories in one day. Maintaining a healthy calorie intake everyday will lower the risk of obesity and other health problems.

Nutrients

Following the calorie information on the nutrition label is the amount of nutrients per serving. The Food and Drug Administration suggests limiting the first three nutrients typically seen on nutrition labels which are fat, cholesterol and sodium. According to the FDA, these nutrients are either overeaten, or eaten in adequate amounts, and too much of these particular nutrients can lead to chronic diseases. The nutrients listed in the lower portion of the nutrition label, like vitamins, iron and calcium, are nutrients that most people don't get enough of. According to the FDA, eating adequate amounts of these nutrients can improve your health and reduce the risk of certain diseases and conditions. The amount of protein and carbohydrates needed to maintain a healthy diet vary from person to person.

Daily Values

Beside each listed nutrient is a daily value (DV) percentage. This percentage is almost always based off of a 2,000 calorie daily diet. Knowing the amount of nutrients you need to consume in grams per day, then calculating the amount of nutrients a food contains in grams per serving can be quite difficult. The percentage number beside each nutrient provides a much easier method of tracking the amount of nutrients being consumed each day. For example, if you kept track of the DV percentage of all the nutrients in all the servings of different foods you consumed in one day, you can find out how close you are to the recommended daily allowance for a 2,000 calorie diet. If your DV percentage totals equate to 116 percent total fat consumed for the day, and 60 percent calcium, that means you ate 16 percent over the daily allowance for fat, and were 40 percent shy of the recommended intake for calcium.

Nutrition Label Tips

The DV percentage enables you to make comparisons between different brands of the same type of food, just remember that the serving sizes used for the nutrition facts need to be the same or similar for an accurate comparison. The DV percentage will also allow you to verify the front label claims of a particular food. For example, you can check to see if a brand of cereal really is calcium enriched when compared to the standard form of the same cereal, or better yet, compare it to another brand of cereal to see which would benefit you more in calcium content.

Don't forget to read all the way to the bottom of the nutrition label. Ingredients are usually listed below the nutrition label, and can help you determine if a certain food you eat contains anything considered unhealthy. Also read the footnote on certain food labels. This footnote typically states that DV's are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. The footnote sometimes contains a table that lists the suggested daily allowance for certain nutrients.

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