Know your nutrition label facts
One of the best ways to follow a healthy diet is to be an educated consumer. Choosing foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains are basic nutritious staples. But what about packaged foods? How do we know if they are healthy options? Have you ever looked at the Nutrition Facts Label? The Nutrition Facts label can provide a wealth of knowledge. Let us navigate the label and highlight some main components that deserve our attention.
- Serving size – Located at the top, one of the most important items on the label. The serving size states the quantity of food that provides the nutrition listed and number of servings per container. This shows the quantity to be consumed at one time. Note: if eating more than the serving size, say twice as much, double the numbers below as you are having two portions.
- Total Fat – To keep this simple, we want to have food without trans-fat, low in saturated fat and higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat. For healthy Americans, the recommendation for saturated fat (found in animal sources) is no more than 7 percent of calories. That means if you eat 2000 calories a day, saturated fat intake should be less than 16 grams a day.
- Sodium – Processed foods are often sodium offenders. In the American diet, 77 percent of daily salt intake is from restaurant or processed foods. Therefore reading the nutrition label to identify sodium content can greatly assist with daily intake. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300mg daily for healthy Americans with an ideal limit of 1,500 mg for most adults. Reading the sodium contents of packaged food can be eye opening.
- Total Carbohydrate – For those with diabetes, nutrition label reading is beneficial for carbohydrate counting and glucose control. When looking for carbohydrate content, one should focus on “Total Carbohydrate”. Note that this term is bolded and words such as dietary fiber, sugar, sugar alcohols and other carbohydrates fall under this term and are indented. Fiber, sugar, etc. are included in the total carbohydrate number and as it is carbohydrates in general that raise blood sugar, this should be our focus.
- Fiber – We just mentioned it is included in Total Carbohydrate, but fiber should get a closer look. Fiber can keep you feeling fuller longer, assists in digestion and lowering LDL cholesterol. Foods that are good sources of fiber contain about 4 grams of fiber or more per serving. Recommendation: Men 50 or younger - 38 grams/day, women 50 years or younger- 25 grams/day.
The Percent Daily Value on the nutrition label can be confusing and are based on a 2000 calorie diet. The fact is we are all different people, requiring different nutrition and calorie needs which are based on age, weight, activity level, disease state, etc. Instead of calculating the percentages it would be best to focus on the above information and aim for a healthy diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, whole grain, and lean proteins.
About the Author: Sarah Novelly, MS, RDN is an outpatient dietitian seeing patients by appointment as well as working with cardiopulmonary rehab patients at Sentara RMH Medical Center. Her passion is to assist in healthier eating habits to allow for a long and healthy life. She enjoys sharing recipes and food samples with her patients, showing them that healthy food can indeed be tasty too.