How to Read a Nutrition Label
When you go to a super market and watch people search through the aisles, you will notice that almost everyone picks up a product they want and will check the nutrition label. You may even do this yourself. But what are you looking at? Serving size? Calories? How about sugar? We are here to help you break down a nutrition label on the spot so you can buy only the best for yourself and your family. “A survey conducted by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC) in 2003 revealed by about 83% of shoppers did look at nutritional labels. A survey from the Food Marketing Institute in 2004 showed similar results. In 2006, an Associated Press survey showed 80% of shoppers reading food labels. However, the same survey found that 44% of these shoppers still bought less healthy foods.” (source)
First, you need to know the language. What is a daily value, calorie, fat, etc?
The daily value on a nutrition label is typically shown as a percentage. The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients based on a 2,000 calorie diet. According to skinnymom.com, less than 5% of a nutrient is considered low, and 15% or more may be too much.
A calorie is is approximately the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by one degree Celsius. But what the heck does that mean? In simpler terms, a calorie is basically the unit used to measure the energy found in food. If calories are not burned into energy, they get converted and are stored into fats. Keep in mind that if you want to loose weight, you need to burn more calories than you consume. Try thinking of calories as fuel and energy for your body and the healthier the food is, the more energy you will have.
Fats. What the heck are total fat, saturated fat, etc.? The total fat is the amount of fat in the product. One gram of fat is equal to about 9 calories. Saturated fats are animal fats found in cream, butter, milk, etc. Unsaturated fats are what you want to eat. These fats typically come from nuts, fish, vegetable oil, etc.
Carbohydrates are broken down and used in your body as fuel, they are the biggest fuel source for your body. Dietary fiber is naturally found in healthy carbohydrate sources like vegetables and fruits, oats, whole grains, brain and whole wheat. Dietary fiber is an important part of the diet because it counteracts the bad cholesterol. 25 grams of good dietary fiber everyday is recommended.
Protein is key in keeping you fuller longer, and fueling your muscles. There are about 4 calories of protein per gram of protein. The body requires approximately 0.8 grams of protein for every 2.2 pounds of body weight. So, if you weigh 130 pounds, you will need 47 grams of protein per day.
Sodium can be tricky. We need it in our diet, however we need to watch how much we get. Too little or too much is a bad thing. We need to be right in the middle for a balanced diet. The body needs about a 1 teaspoon of sodium a day, so intake must be 2,300 milligrams or less. Sodium is an essential mineral that is found in salt. Too much can cause water retention and high blood pressure.
Sugar is something we need to watch out for. There are no daily reference value for sugars because no recommendations have been made for the total amount to eat in a day. Keep in mind, the sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label include naturally occurring sugars (like those in fruit and milk, which are healthy) as well as those added to a food or drink. Check the ingredient list for specifics on added sugars. Keep in mind that there are 16 calories in 1 tsp. of sugar.