How to read nutrition labels
Deciphering the information found on nutrition labels can be extremely confusing. Here is your quick and easy guide to understanding the basics
The serving size always appears at the top of nutrition labels. Serving sizes can be misleading because they refer to ONE serving and not the entire calorie information of the item. It is simply one measurement and does not represent the entire food item or beverage you are about to consume.
For example, a serving size for Häagen-Dazs ice cream appears as ½ a cup totaling 230 calories. Let's face facts: not many people eat ½ a cup of ice cream. If you were to consume the entire container of Häagen-Dazs, you would probably be eating around 8 servings. What does this result in? You might presume its 230 calories, but 8 x 230 = 1840 calories.
Always pay attention to serving sizes and keep in mind that you might be consuming a lot more than you think. All readings on the nutrition label refer back to the serving size.
% Daily Value
This serves as a guide to the nutrients available in the food or beverage. The percentages of your daily needs are always based on a caloric intake of 2000 calories. Your needs may be greater or less than this figure based on your age, gender, weight and fitness goals.
To understand what these percentages mean, look at the overall percentage for each nutrient. If a food contains less than five percent of a specific nutrient, it will be considered low. If it contains 20 percent or more of that nutrient, it will be considered high.
Here is an example: 5% of Vitamin C will mean that a product does not contain much vitamin C. If a product contains 35% of cholesterol, it will mean it is high in cholesterol.
The total fat refers to the fat measurements that can be found in the product. You will find measurements in grams and a list of the type of fats found. Although it might seem confusing, here is a quick way to learn what you should be looking for:
Eat less saturated fat and trans fat; eat more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Overconsumption of saturated fats and trans fat can contribute to health problems. To learn more about fats, click here.
This refers to the measurement of cholesterol in the item. This measurement will be found in milligrams. What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a fat-like chemical that is found in EVERY cell in our body. Our bodies need cholesterol to make hormones, cell membranes and many other bodily functions. The body can produce its own cholesterol and it can also be found in animal products such as meat, cheese, eggs, milk, etc. Cholesterol cannot be found in plant substances.
Overconsumption of cholesterol can be dangerous. It can lead to health problems such as heart disease and strokes. This is simply because high levels of cholesterol clog your arteries and make them narrower, leading to blood clots and heart failure.
The recommended daily intake of cholesterol for a healthy adult is 300mg (milligrams) a day.
Sodium is a mineral found in the fluid of the cells around your body. Many foods, including salt, contain sodium. Excess intake of sodium can lead to high blood pressure and in some cases, loss of calcium in the bones.
A product can be considered low in sodium is if contains less than 140 mg. The recommended daily intake for a healthy adult is 2300 mg a day.
This figure refers to the number of carbs found in one serving. This is divided into grams of dietary fiber and total sugar. Carbohydrates are the body's preferred fuel source. To learn more about carbohydrates, click here.
Fiber has multifunctional health benefits in the body. It promotes skin health, heart health, blood sugar control, satiation and prevents strokes.
You should always meet your daily requirements of fiber each day. The recommended daily intake of fiber for men is 30 to 38 grams and 21 to 25 grams for women.
Total sugar: this refers to the total amount of sugar found in the product. It includes both naturally occurring sugars along with added sugar. Natural sugars offer health benefits, whereas added sugar can lead to weight gain and health problems. Natural sugar refers to sugar found in our food, such as fruits.
To distinguish between natural sugar and added sugar, simply look at the ingredients.
Natural sugar usually ends with "ose", including fructose, glucose, galactose, sucrose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, etc.
Added sugar can be identified as: beet sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, molasses, maple syrup, corn syrup, brown rice syrup, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, agave, evaporated corn syrup, cane crystals etc.
This figure refers to how many grams of protein are in one serving. To learn more about protein, click here.
Vitamin A and Vitamin C
This refers to the measurements of two major vitamins necessary for bodily functions. Vitamin A improves our vision and immunity. Vitamin C aids in growth and repair and builds healthy teeth and gums.
Other vitamins may also be listed if they can be found in the product.
Calcium and Iron
These are two minerals that play major roles in the body. Calcium improves our bone health whereas iron helps to transport oxygen to red blood cells.
You can determine if a food item or beverage is healthy when it does not contain many ingredients. If a food is natural and unprocessed, it will not have any ingredients whatsoever. For example, an apple or chicken breast will not have any ingredients, whereas a candy bar would be loaded with sugar and other processed additives.
Understanding Other Terms
Sugar free does not mean the product does not contain fat. Fat free does not mean the product does not contain sugar. Always read the ingredients and check the total calories per serving.
Calorie free: item contains less than 5 calories.
Sugar free: item contains less than 0.5 grams of sugar.
Fat free: item contains less than 0.5 grams of fat.
Low fat: item contains less than 3 grams of fat.
Reduced fat: item contains less than 25% of fat.
Cholesterol free: item contains less than 2 mg of cholesterol and less than 2 grams of saturated fat.
Low cholesterol: item contains less than 20 mg of cholesterol and less than 2 grams of saturated fat.
Reduced cholesterol: item contains less than 25% of cholesterol.
Sodium free: item contains less than 5 mg of sodium.
Low sodium: item contains less than 35 mg of sodium.
Reduced sodium: item contains less than 25% of sodium.
High fiber: item contains 5 grams of fiber or more.