Packaged foods and beverages at the grocery store have labels to show you the calorie content and nutritional information. Although these labels are helpful, they can be hard to understand sometimes. There are seven key areas of the nutrition label to focus on:
Serving size is the first item listed on the nutrition label. It is based on the amount of food that people typically eat at one time. It uses a household measurement like cup or tablespoon. The nutrition values shown on the label are for one serving only.
Servings per Container
One package of food usually contains many servings or portions. A portion is the amount of food that you actually eat. If the package has 2 servings total and you eat the whole thing, you are getting twice as many calories and nutrients than listed on the label.
Calories are the energy that your body uses to fuel itself. On the nutrition label, the amount of calories shown is for one recommended serving. That means the whole item could contain more calories if you eat all servings. Closely check calories per serving and the total number of servings in an item.
Calories from Fat
This number shows you how many of the total calories come from fat. Calories from fat are not extra calories. This number can help determine how healthy a food is. Try to pick foods that have a low calorie from fat number.
The nutrient content on the label is very important information. It tells you how much of each nutrient you will get by eating that food. Some nutrients that are best in moderation (low amounts): Saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrate (carbs), and sugar. Some nutrients are good for your body and you should try to get more of them: vitamins, calcium, iron and other minerals. Nutrients are listed with their daily percent values.
% Daily Value
The percent daily value shows if there is a little or a lot of nutrients in one serving. It is based on the daily-recommended amount for people over 4 years old. The scale is from 0% to 100%. 5% is a low amount of nutrients and 20% is a high amount. Use these percentages to compare the nutrients of similar items.
Nutrition labels show all of the ingredients that go into making a food. You can check whether a food or beverage has sources of nutrients that are good for you. Try to avoid foods that have refined grains, sugar or hydrogenated oils as main ingredients. If a product has many different ingredients that you do not recognize, it may not be as healthy for you.
Many processed foods contain higher amounts of sodium, cholesterol and trans fat. A nutrition label tells you exactly what is in the food you are eating. If you are following a special diet, like low sodium or high fiber diet, the nutrition label can help you choose the right foods. The next time you are at the store, compare the nutrition label of similar products and find which is the healthier choice.