Nutrition Facts Labels can be a mystery to unravel once we get past the calorie content and serving size, then delve further into the various fat content, carbohydrates, vitamins and nutrients listed on the box. Becoming more aware of what is in the food we eat is an essential component of any weight loss strategy. After all, successful weight loss requires a plan that contains multiple levels of lifestyle change, which can include weight loss surgery, exercise, and better eating habits.
But eating better can be a challenge if we don’t constantly consider what is in the foods we consume. In order to obtain a healthier diet and proper nutrition, more attention should be paid to understanding the nutrition labels found on each package.
The problem with nutrition labels is that they can be confusing, so people often misinterpret what the labels are attempting to communicate to the consumer. One quick glance at the label might indicate that the product inside contains 150 calories. A second glance, however, will reveal that the contents actually amount to 150 calories per serving, and there are 4 servings in the box. There is a big difference between 150 calories in one serving and 600 calories total. This is only the beginning of deciphering the mystery behind the nutrition labels, so here is a quick guide to help pave the way.
Basic information on the label begins with information regarding serving size, calories, and nutrients. Below this is the data on Daily Values, or DV’s, for diets of both 2,000 and 2500 calories per day, which offers what is considered to be appropriate daily nutrition for achieving optimal health, and includes the content amounts of fats, sodium and fiber per day.
TAKEAWAY WARNING: Watch out for the servings per container line! If it says there are 150 calories in a cup, but the box in reality contains 4 cups, consuming the entire box means 600 calories are going down the piehole. That might not be so good.
The first line is the place to start, because that is where the actual serving size can be seen. Remember, a serving size isn’t always a portion size. It can be displayed in units of cups or pieces (7 chips, for instance), and then the metric version (in grams) is displayed next. It tells the amount of calories per serving that are lurking in the box, along with their partner, fat. If the portion eaten is two servings, this requires doubling BOTH numbers.
When interpreting good vs. bad calorie content, a standard guide per serving for a 2,000 calorie plan per day is:
Keep in mind that obesity and overweight conditions are linked to the intake of excessive calories per day.
WATCH OUT FOR: Total fat content, which is broken down into saturated fat and trans fat. Also be cognizant of cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and sugar. Too much of these byproducts can increase risk of diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, some forms of cancer and heart disease.
Vitamins and nutrients are listed so we can see good things the food contains, like fiber and protein. Most Americans lack dietary fiber, vitamins like A & C, calcium and iron. The benefits of having adequate amounts of these in your diet boosts your immune system and will help reduce the risk of certain conditions. Calcium is good for bones and helps minimize the chances of developing osteoporosis. High fiber in food helps bowel function. Iron is good for your blood as it is an important component of hemoglobin, the component that carries oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
TAKEAWAY GOOD POINT: The Nutrition Facts label is a warm fuzzy friend that will help identify which nutrients should be reduced, and which ones should be increased in the daily diet.
There is much more to be learned regarding the facts behind what is listed on the nutrition label. The FDA has an excellent guide for more in depth information. Visit their website for a complete breakdown of nutrition labels commonly used in the United States.
*Reference: How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services