Understanding Food Labels

How to Read Nutrition Facts Label
Thanks to the changes in food labeling, almost every packaged food label has to give the facts about what’s inside it. That’s great for us — we can choose the most nutritious to eat.

❶ Are you eating as much as on the label? If you eat twice as much, double the calories and nutrient value. Half as much? Cut the calorie and nutrient value in half.

❷ Try to limit your calories from fat. The most healthful foods are those with the biggest difference between the total number of
calories and the number of calories from fat.

❸ Avoid saturated fat. It’s found in fatty cuts of meat, dairy products and coconut and palm oils. Limit your intake.

❹ Cholesterol is a fatty substance that is made by the body and is also found in certain foods. Too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease. Eating a low-fat diet helps to lower cholesterol.

❺ Sodium is a mineral our bodies need, but too muh of it can cause problems. Most of get all we need from the salt in foods we eat every day.

❻ Carbohydrates are found in foods like bread, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. Eat more of these!

❼ Fiber keeps food moving through the body properly. Best sources? Whole wheat bread, bran, whole-grain cereal, fresh fruits and vegetables.

❽ You can get protein from many sources, including lean meat, seafood, poultry, skim or low-fat dairy products, beans, grains, and cereals.

❾ Try to take in 100% of these vitamins and minerals every day. Don’t expect one food to give it all to you. Eat a combination to win at the food label game!

❿ % Daily Value shows haw a food fits into an overall diet of 2.000 calories a day. For fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, choose foods with a low % Daily Value. For total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, your goal is to reach 100% of them.

*Pregnant women, breast feeding mothers, teenagers, and young adults under age 24 years need 3 servings a day.

g = grams (about 28 g = 1 ounce)
mg = milligrams (1,000 mg = 1 g)

How Much is a Serving?

This is a very important question! A serving size is not how you measure a serving, it’s how the FDA measures a serving. The size of a serving is shown on the Nutrition Facts section of the food label. For example, one serving of cereal equals 3/4 cup. If you use the same amount as the serving size listed on the label, the Nutrition Facts will apply to your serving. If the food pyramid recommends two servings of a food group, and you measure and eat two servings, you must multiply the calories and nutrients in the Nutrition Facts by 2 to get an accurate count of the calories and nutrients eaten.

Food Labels

Reading food labels is a must when food shopping! Prepackaged foods are required to have nutrition labels. Food labels are voluntary for “fresh foods” such as raw meats, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables.

The Nutrition Facts on the food label must show the following information:
 Serving Size. A uniform amount for all labels. The serving size allows you to compare the nutritional values of similar foods by comparing the food labels, It also helps you to eat the recommended number of servings from the Food Pyramid. The servings per container are also shown based on the serving size.
 The amounts per serving of:
– Total Calories and Calories From Fat
– Total Fat
– Saturated Fat
 Cholesterol
 Sodium
 Potassium
 Total Carbohydrates
– Dietary Fiber
– Sugars
 Protein
 Vitamins A and C
 Minerals, Calcium, and Iron

The food label also compares the amount of nutrients in one serving of the food with the amounts of total fat, carbohydrate, dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals that should be present in a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie daily diet. The nutrients are based on a dietary standard called the Daily Value. The Daily Value is an updated version of the old U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA).

Pre-packaged meat and poultry products must show:
 nutrient levels “as packaged” – the nutrient contents are before cooking or adding ingredients
 nutrient levels “as consumed” – after being prepared, before adding ingredients, and cooked according to package instructions.

Percent Daily Values

The food label states “The percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” Using this fact and a little arithmetic, you can figure out your personal percent daily values based on the number of calories you eat each day.

Ingredients Labels

Always read the ingredients label if you know you are allergic to certain foods or you have trouble digesting certain foods. The ingredients label will tell you if the product is made with ingredients that could cause you problems.

Health Claims For Foods

Certain health claims about foods have been approved by the government. If one of the following health claims is advertised about a food, you can rest assured that there is scientific evidence from reliable studies to support the claim. You can also be sure that a real relationship exists between the food and the medical condition. Known relationships exist between:
 A diet high in fat and an increased risk of cancer
 A diet high in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol and an increased risk of heart disease
 Calcium and bone density
 Sodium and high blood pressure
 Folic Acid and a reduced risk of neural tube birth defects
 A diet rich in fruits and vegetables and a reduced risk of some cancers
 A high-fiber diet and a reduced risk of heart attack
 A high-fiber diet and a reduced risk of certain cancers

Uniform definitions have been developed so you will know the definition of “high,” “low,” and “rich”.

Uniform Definitions

The government has set standards for definitions used to advertise foods. Uniform definitions are based on one serving of a food. Uniform definitions include:
 Extra lean — per 100 grams: less than 5 grams of fat, less than 5 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol
 Free — none or “negligible” amounts.
 Calorie-free — fewer than 5 calories
 Fat-free — less than 0.5 grams of fat
 Cholesterol-free — less than 2 milligrams or 2 grams or less of saturated fat
 Sugar-free — less than .05 grams of sugar
 Good source of — the food provides 10% or more of the daily value for a particular nutrient.
 High — the food provides 20% or more of the Daily Value for a particular nutrient. High can also mean “rich in” or an “excellent source of”.
 Lean — per 100 grams: less than 10 grams of fat, less than 4 grams of saturated fat, and less than 95 milligrams of cholesterol
 Less — see Reduced.
 Light (lite) — used to describe calories, fat, or sodium. It means the food has 1/3 fewer calories, 50% less fat, or 50% less sodium than usually found in this food.
 Low, little, few, low source of — the food contains amounts of a particular nutrient that allows you to eat several servings and not go over the daily value for that nutrient.
– Low sodium means less than 140 milligrams
– Very low sodium means less than 35 milligrams
– Low calories means 40 calories or less
– Low fat means 3 grams of fat or less
– Low saturated fat means l gram or less
– Low cholesterol means less than 20 milligrams
 More — the food provides 10% or more of the daily value for a particular nutrient.
 Reduced — the product contains 25% fewer calories or nutrients than the regular product. Reduced cannot be used to describe foods naturally low in calories or nutrients.


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