Interpreting Nutrition Labels
EnFuse Institute For Learning
Category: Health & Wellness
Interpreting Nutrition Labels
In an ideal world we would consume only whole, unprocessed foods. However, even the most mindful consumers rely on packaged foods such as a morning yogurt or a can of beans for a hearty chili. Navigating product labels can be overwhelming for many consumers. Here are some suggestions on how to evaluate the label while nourishing your body.
Check the Ingredient List
Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. The product's ingredients must be listed in order of quantity, so the major ones come first. Look for foods containing unprocessed, recognizable ingredients. If you can’t pronounce or don’t recognize some of the ingredients, put the product back on the shelf! Likewise, the shorter the ingredient list, the better. A lengthier list usually is a red flag that a product has unnecessary added ingredients such as artificial preservatives. This section of information is additionally helpful to individuals with food sensitivities or those who want to limit added sugars.
Mind the Serving Size
The two important items here are the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label. Note: 400 calories or more per serving of a single food item is high.
Daily Value (DV)
This is the average level of each nutrient for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. For example, an item with a “5% DV” of fat provides five percent of the total fat that a person consuming 2,000 calories a day should eat. Your individual caloric need may be more or less than 2,000 calories per day and for some nutrients you may need more or less than 100 percent of the listed DV. A low DV is five percent or less and high is 20 percent or more. It should be noted that percent DVs are for the entire day, not just one meal or snack!
Differentiate the Ingredients
Due to blood pressure or kidney concerns, many individuals are mindful of the sodium values in their food, but informed label reading goes beyond this concern.
The values for saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and trans fats are more important than the total fat. Ideally, the product should contain relatively little saturated fat and relatively more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. Trans fats are best avoided as these, along with saturated fats, are linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Additionally, "fat-free" doesn't equal "calorie-free," and many fat-free and low-fat foods have added sugar.
While tasty, this ingredient can have negative effects not only on cardiovascular health, but also the nervous system, mood, energy and liver health.1,2,3 Sugar can masquerade as various names, including dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, isomalt, maltodextrins, sorghum or turbinado. You might even find more than one listed. These are all high-calorie, low-nutrient, added sugars. Furthermore, sugar shows up in surprising places, including crackers and “healthy” salad dressings. Sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruits, veggies and honey not just from refined sources. This year manufacturers are required to list added sugars separately on the product label, so be sure to check!
Sugar alcohols are also worth mentioning. A few of the most common include sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, xylitol and maltitol. These are often found in products labeled “sugar-free.” While these are considered the lesser evil, you are much better off grabbing a piece of fruit to satisfy a sugar craving.
Understanding nutrition labels can help make healthier choices in your daily food consumption. Fill your cart with foods containing beneficial fiber, protein, minerals and vitamins!
- Morenga, Lisa A Te, et al. “Dietary Sugars and Cardiometabolic Risk: Systematic Review and Meta-Analyses of Randomized Controlled Trials of the Effects on Blood Pressure and Lipids.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, vol. 100, no. 1, 2014, pp. 65–79.
- Yang, Quanhe, et al. “Added Sugar Intake and Cardiovascular Diseases Mortality Among US Adults.” JAMA Internal Medicine, vol. 174, no. 4, 2014, p. 516.
- Laguna, Juan, et al. “Simple Sugar Intake and Hepatocellular Carcinoma: Epidemiological and Mechanistic Insight.” Nutrients, vol. 6, no. 12, 2014, pp. 5933–5954.
We hope that you found this article helpful!
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