Before you buy any packaged food; in order to understand what’s inside the box, you must first read what’s on the box. So grab any packaged food from your pantry, find the label and follow along.
Serving size: The nutritional value of each product is written according to serving size. If a serving size is for one cup and you eat two, all the information on the label must be doubled to get accurate values. Ask yourself how many servings you are consuming and then calculate accurate values.
% Daily Value: These are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Most people don’t know how much they consume so this is just a reference to help determine whether a food is high or low in a nutrient. A daily value of 5% or less in a serving is considered low for nutrients. When consuming products such as fats, cholesterol, saturated fat and sodium, make sure the daily value is no more than 5%. A daily value of 20% or more is considered high for nutrients. Look for 20%DV or more for vitamins, minerals and fiber (not for fats, sodium and cholesterol). Note that a %DV is not listed for trans-fats, sugars and protein.
Calories and Calories from Fat: A calorie is a unit of energy that measure how much energy a food provides to the body. Most of us consume more calories than we need. On the average, women consume 1,800-2000 calories a day and men consume around 2,500/day. Calories from fat are just that- the number of calories that come from fat. Remember, the number of servings you consume determines the total number of calories you eat. To stay healthy, choose foods that have a big difference in the total calories and the calories that come from fat.
Total Fat: This tells the total grams of fat in a single serving of food. Fats are an important source of energy and is required by our body everyday however, too much of it can cause obesity and other health problems. Total fat intake should be no more than 30% of your total calories. A product that has 3 grams or less of total fat (per serving) is considered low fat.
Saturated fat: This is the bad fat that can raise blood cholesterol and increase your risk of getting heart disease. This number should be close to 0%.
Trans-fat: Another bad fat. All food labels are required to report trans-fats by the FDA. However, if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans-fat, per serving, it can be reported as “trans-fat free”. This is why it’s important to pay close attention to how many servings you are eating, because if you eat several servings, the trans fats could add up even if it is a product labeled “trans-fat free”! Aim for 0% here.
Cholesterol: The body needs some cholesterol to function, but too much of cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Eat less than 300mg per day.
Sodium: The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. However, most of us easily consume around 4000- 5000mg/day! Keep a tally of how your sodium mg adds up each day.
Carbohydrates: About 320 grams are recommended daily give and take depending on your activity levels. Dietary fiber: We need about 25 grams/day of dietary fiber, however, most of us fall short of this.
Sugars: There is no daily value established for sugars. Sugars should be limited. 3-5 grams of sugar per serving is considered low whereas 45 grams of sugar is considered very high.
Protein: Approximately 50- 90 grams daily depending on body size or weight, or 12%- 20% of caloric intake is recommended. This will also vary depending on your activity levels.
Vitamins & Minerals: Food labels also provide information on important nutrients that should be consumed in greater amounts. Remember that 5% DV or less contributes little to the daily total whereas, 20% DV or more contributes a lot.
*Percent Daily Values: This statement is required to be on all food labels and it will always be the same. Since it shows the recommended dietary allowance for all Americans, it does not change from product to product.
Something else to keep in mind- food labels and packaging can be quite tricky- a product labeled 'low calorie' in front of the packaging might sound enticing but could have a high amount of sodium. It's always best to flip it over and read that label!