Tricks on decoding nutrition labels

Tools to help you pick better food next time you’re at the store

Knowing how to read nutrition labels can improve your health and help you lose weight.

When you shop for your groceries, why do you choose the foods you do? As you take food off the shelf and place it in your cart, what goes through your mind? Is the price right, does the picture of what’s inside look tasty, or is it just what you’ve always gotten? How often do you actually look at the side label to read the nutrition facts?

Unless you’re on a strict diet that is gluten-free or low-sodium, you may never take the time to examine what’s in your food. Maybe the nutrition label is confusing to you. After all, what do all the numbers, percent signs, and strange words mean?

Understanding nutrition fact labels can make a big difference in what you choose to eat for improved health and weight loss. You can make sure you’re eating enough of the right kinds of nutrients and limiting or avoiding the wrong kinds. Keep reading to learn how to decode nutrition labels.

Serving Information

At the top of the label you’ll see the serving size and the number of servings per container. The rest of the nutrition facts you see listed depend on the serving size. A serving is broken down into the number of tablespoons, cups, or pieces. It may also be listed as “one bar” or “one pouch.” Next to the size you’ll see the metric amount of the serving usually listed in number of grams. Some food packages contain one serving, two servings, or multiple servings. Pay attention to the serving size to avoid overeating.

Number of Calories

Calories are a measure of how much energy is found in food. Eat too many calories and you gain weight. On the nutrition label, calories are listed per serving. The label may say your granola contains 220 calories, but if you eat two servings, that’s 440 calories. Understanding how many calories are in your food can help you lose or maintain weight.

Next, you’ll see how many calories come from fat. Many health experts think this information is unnecessary on nutrition labels since it’s mainly calories, not fat, that you need to worry about for weight management.

Nutrients to Limit

While all foods can have some benefit when eaten in moderation, there are three nutrients—fat, cholesterol, and sodium—that ought to be particularly limited in your diet. While there are good and bad fats, it’s best to limit all, cut back on saturated fat, and completely avoid trans. Eating too much unhealthy fats, cholesterol, and sodium increases your risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancers.

Nutrients to Eat

Further down the nutrition label you’ll see carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamins, and minerals listed. Your body needs a certain amount of each of these nutrients each day for health, wellness, and disease prevention. Near the bottom of the nutrition label is a chart that lists the recommended number of grams and milligrams of each nutrient you should consume on either a 2,000 or 2,500-calorie diet. The chart is the same on every food package.

Percent Daily Values

Down the right side of the label you’ll see a percentage of each nutrient found in a serving. The percentage tells you what portion of your recommended daily values that particular food provides based on a 2,000-calorie diet. If you’re not tracking, you may not know exactly how many calories you consume in a day, but the percent daily values help you see if the food you’re eating is considered high or low in a specific nutrient. Five percent or below is low and twenty percent or greater is high. The daily value percentages are also a good way to compare foods when the serving size is the same.

There you have it, lots of tools to help you pick better food next time you’re at the store. In the health game, knowledge is power and you’ll all set!

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