Even for the most avid grocery shoppers, reading nutrition facts labels can be a daunting, time-consuming task. In this article, we hope to enhance your understanding of how to read these labels so you can make informed, efficient decisions about the foods you buy.
First, the basics. Once you locate the label, you will want to check the amount of servings and the serving size. Note that this is not a recommendation for how much you should consume; rather, it is the typical amount recommended for an individual with a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Thus, you should account for your specific nutritional needs when selecting food products.
Also, it is crucial to understand that the rest of the nutritional information provided on the label refers to one serving, so if you eat more than one serving, you will need to multiple by the number of servings you eat to calculate the nutrients you consume.
Next, in order to maintain or reach a healthy body weight, you will want to pay attention to the number of calories in the product and ensure that you are burning the appropriate number of calories compared to the number of calories you consume.
South of calories on the label, you will find a range of nutrients the product may or may not contain, with the corresponding number of units of the nutrient in one serving, along with the percentage of daily value (%DV). The %DV refers to the percentage of referenced amounts of nutrients that you should or should not consume over the course of a day.
When assessing the quality of a food, then, you may quickly reference the %DV of a given nutrient and, given your particular nutritional needs, make an informed decision of whether to purchase the product. This also makes it easier to compare similar products side by side.
You may notice that trans fat and sugars do not have a %DV on the label. This is because the FDA could not establish a daily value due to their numerous links to health risks (e.g., for trans fat, its many ties to heart disease). So, in general, look for products with 0% or low amounts of trans fat and sugars. Add sodium to the list of nutrients to avoid as well.
In the nutrients list, you’ll likely see “dietary fibers” listed. This is one of the nutrients of which, if anything, you will likely want to match or exceed the %DV. Other nutrients to stack up on include Vitamin D, Calcium, Potassium, and Iron.
Lastly, you will want to familiarize yourself with the ingredients list on the label. It is helpful to know that the ingredients are listed in order of most to least, so the first ingredients listed are what the product contains the most of. If you see high fructose corn syrup at the top of the list, for example, you may want to try another product.
Products like SaladPower, with only straight-forward real ingredients that you can instantly recognize, are the way to go. If you’ve never heard of the ingredient, or can’t pronounce it, or it ends with the suffix “-ose” (sugar alert!), then it’s likely not good for you.
With some quick math, and a deeper understanding of the nutrition facts label, we hope your trips down the grocery aisle are a little easier, and you are better equipped to choose products that meet your health needs.