Remember to look at serving size before you start eating an item. You might choose just one serving, but if you eat more you must multiply the whole nutrition label by the number of servings you ate if you want to know what nutrients you had.
Fresh fruits and vegetables do not require food labels because they have not been processed. Check out these items when you need a healthy snack.
Beware of ingredients on the label that you can't pronounce and are unfamiliar. The more big words in the ingredients list, the more you should probably stay away from that food.
The law that required nutrition labels on all packaged foods sold in the U.S. began in 1990. The nutrition label you see today on the foods you and your family buy has changed a little, but still serves the same purpose. It's there to inform the buyer or consumer of what nutrients are in the product. The items on all labels are listed in the same order. So when you learn how to read a label once, things will be in the same spot when you read another label on a different product. Each package contains a list of ingredients too. These appear in a certain order, from greatest to least in terms of weight. Each product has a unique ingredients list.
The first place you should look at when trying to read a label is the serving size. Serving size gives you a point of reference, and the entire label is based on that amount. If you had 1 cup of macaroni and cheese you would have 250 calories. If you had 2 cups you would have to times every nutritional value on the label by two. That would equal 500 calories.
The second place you should pay attention to is the calories per serving and calories from fat. A calorie is a measurement of energy. If you ate one serving of this macaroni and cheese you would be getting 250 units of energy.
You can check out the Dietary Reference Sheet to see how many calories you should be consuming each day. The recommended number of calories depends on your age, gender and activity level. As you can see on this label, there are 250 calories in one serving and of those 250, 110 come from the fat in the product. Fat is a nutrient that contains calories, and from the amount of fat in one serving a person would get 110 calories.
The third and fourth places for your attention are the nutrients. Number 3 shows you the nutrients that you should try and limit (fat, cholesterol and sodium). Number 4 shows you the nutrients that you should get enough of each day (fiber, vitamins and minerals).
This last part of the label is the most confusing for most people. This section tells you about the percentages to the right of the label and what is called "Percent Daily Value." Percent Daily Value, or % DV, is based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. The % DV helps you quickly tell if it is considered low or high in specific nutrients. Anything 5% or less is considered low; anything 20% or higher is considered high. Take a look at the % DV for fat for one serving. It's 18%. That means if you ate one serving you would have had 18 percent of the total recommended fat for the day. If you had two servings of the macaroni and cheese (2 cups) you would have 36% of your daily value of fat. Here is what that looks like in math.
Remember, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet:
1 cup of macaroni and cheese = 18% Daily Value of Fat
If you start the day with 100%, eating 1 cup of mac and cheese at
18% would leave you with 82% fat.
2 cups of macaroni and cheese = 36% Daily Value of Fat
If you start the day with 100%, eating 2 cups of mac and cheese at
36% would leave you with 64% fat.
The next thing you should be mindful of when reading the nutrition label is the footnote at the bottom. This portion of the label is the same on all labels. It gives general guidelines, not information specific to the product. You can use the footnote as a reference when deciding if the item you are about to eat is a good choice for you.
Here's a little hands-on activity that requires a quick trip to your kitchen or pantry to grab a snack food item with a label. You'll probably need a calculator to do the math. Download and print a copy of Health Trek’s Nutrition Facts Worksheet. Use the info on the food label to complete the worksheet.
For example, if it's 250 calories per serving and the snack is considered to be 3 servings in size, you'd multiply 250 x 3 for a whopping 750 calories!
There are clear warning signs on some labels advising moderation or avoidance. These warnings, unfortunately, will often accompany snacks that are super tasty, irresistible, scrumptious, dipped in chocolate — you name it! Other labels will seem to glow like green traffic lights, letting you know the snack in question is an intelligent choice. You can get crazy and have two, you're getting a good Percent Daily Value of protein, vitamin A or C, calcium or iron.
The important thing is to get comfortable with reading food labels. You should have a clear idea of how to read a serving size from a package and what the food pyramid shows as the recommended serving size. Paying attention to labels is of prime importance for a successful Health Trek.
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