As people become more health conscious they start to look for nutritional information on the food they eat. Others start to look at the nutritional food label when they start a diet to lose weight or for certain medical conditions. The nutritional food labels is a good starting point since it is mandatory to display such information on food sold in the United States and in many other countries.
At first nutritional food labels may seem difficult to understand, but they are not. Actually they are very useful to get quickly the nutritional facts about the food we are buying. Let’s see what information you can get from the food labels.
Start Here: Serving Size
Serving Size: This is the starting point. Keep in mind that all the info contained in the food label is referred to the serving size. Serving size varies from food to food. It usually comes in an easy to measure way: a number of units, or a number of ounces, or a cup, etc. The thing to be aware here is that usually a package contains more than one serving size.
Servings per Package: The label tells you how many servings are contained in the package. This is very important since if you eat a package of cookies and the food label says that there are 6 servings in a single package you need to multiply the nutritional information on the label by 6 to get the total amount of nutrients and calories you have ingested.
Calories and Calories From Fat:
This is the most sought information on nutritional food label. Usually people start to look at food labels when they go on a diet. Then, all of sudden they focus on calories. You can find the amount of calories per serving size and calories you get from fat easily by looking at the food label.
It is already known that fat has its implications on health so fat intake should be controlled for good health. But not all fats are equal so you need foods with “good” fats, that is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Saturated and Trans-fat (two types of bad fats) are reported here. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
Cholesterol and Sodium:
Here you can get the information on the amount of cholesterol in the product. Cholesterol is a “bad” fat so this info will help you to eat less cholesterol in your diet. Also, keeping track of how much sodium the product has is important not only for healthy people but especially for people with high blood pressure.
The total amount of carbohydrates contained in a serving size is reported here. This information is very useful for people on a low-carb diet. If you need to count carbohydrates for whatever reason this is where you look for that. Sugars and dietary fiber is also reported in this section.
The total amount of protein in the serving size is reported here. If you need to keep track of protein look at this info here. This info is great for people on low carb diet since they need to get more proteins on their diets.
Calcium and Iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C:
Calcium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin C are important nutirents (minerals and vitamins, respectively) for good health. You find this information in this section of the food label. Try to get enough of these in your diet. The higher the better.
% Daily Value:
In addition to the amount of fat, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals you can get an idea of how good the food you are buying is at fulfilling the daily requirements of a healthy individual. Based on a 2000-calorie diet you will get the information of what percentage of the daily-required values are you getting with the food you are buying. For example, if the daily requirement for protein is 30 g and you get 15 g with the food you are ingesting then you will have a 50% daily value informed in the food label for protein.
There is additional information in the nutritional food label. Some report phytosterols, some specific sugars and many more food components. As we, as a society, become more health conscious and base our food purchases on specific nutritional components we will see more specific nutritional information on the food labels.
FDA/Center for Food Safety & Applied Nutrition. www.cfsan.fda.gov