Do you ever go to the grocery store and see people pick up a package, turn it over to read the label and wonder what they are looking for?
Let’s start at the top –
Serving Size and the number of Servings Per Container. The amounts listed on the label are for one serving, so it is important to determine how much you will eat to accurately assess your nutrient intake.
Next, take a look at the total number of Calories and the number of calories from fat. This part of the label will help you determine how this particular food will weigh in on the energy balance you are attempting to create. Generally speaking, 40 calories per serving is considered low, 100 calories per serving is moderate and 400 or more calories is considered high.
Total Fat: Aim low and limit your calories from fat. For a healthy heart, try to choose foods with a big difference between the total number of calories and the number of calories from fat. The Dietary Guidelines encourage consuming less than 20 – 35% of calories from fat. To determine the percentage of calories from fat, divide the number of calories from fat by the total number of calories per serving.
Saturated Fat is listed separately because it is a big determinant in raising blood cholesterol and your risk of heart disease.
Trans Fat is also listed separately. It is considered worse than saturated fat and can cause damage to blood vessels and contributes to increasing blood cholesterol and the risk of heart disease. Trans fat should be avoided, even in small amounts.
Cholesterol can also lead to heart disease. Limit intake to less than 300 mg a day. Sodium or salt can contribute to high blood pressure in some people. Aim for 2,400 – 3,000 mg or less each day.
Total Carbohydrates are next in line. These are found in foods like bread, potatoes, fruits and vegetables. Approximately 45-65% of your calories should come from carbohydrates. Dietary Fiber is found in fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods, beans and peas and can reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
Most Americans get more Protein than they need. Eat small servings of lean meat, fish and poultry to reduce the intake of fat and cholesterol when choosing animal proteins. Alternatives include vegetable proteins like beans, grains and cereals. It is recommended that 10-35% of total calories come from protein.
Vitamins and Minerals should add up to 100% each day. A good diet with a variety of healthy foods can help you round out this number. Dietary supplements may also be necessary if you continually fall short on this number to make sure your body is receiving all the nourishment it requires.
The Percentage Daily Values will help you compare products, assuming the serving size is the same. Generally, 5% of daily value or less is considered low, and 20% or more of daily value is considered high. Note that most daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet and should be adjusted for your specific daily calorie goal.