What does a box of cereal, a bag of pretzels and a jar of salsa have in common? The answer is a nutrition facts label. Most all food and/or food packaging requires a nutrition facts label, although there are exceptions for things like fresh fruits, vegetables and fish or edible products that have little to zero nutritional value (food coloring or tea, as an example). While most people look at the nutrition facts label, the real question is, do they understand it?
If you’re one of those consumers who isn’t quite sure what all that information means, we’re going to help out and give you several tips on how to decode what you’re eating.
Serving Size (A)
First and foremost, the nutrition facts label has the serving size and servings per container/package at the top of the label. The information on the label is PER SERVING, not necessarily per container. In some cases, one container might equal one serving, but you have to read it to make sure, so you don’t end up consuming more calories than you anticipated. If you eat an entire package of granola, and the package contained two or three servings, remember to double or triple the number of calories.
More than likely, you know what a calorie is (the amount of energy you get from a serving of food) and every nutrition label has a calorie count. The label will also show you how many of those calories come from fat. Remember, if the label tells you there are two servings in a packet and you eat the entire packet, you need to double the calorie count.
Nutrients (C & D)
Nutrients are the things in food that determine the nutritional value—like fat, sodium, vitamins, etc. Part C of the label shows you the amount (in grams) of fat, cholesterol, sodium and carbs. You may also hear these things referred to as macros.
You want to limit the amount of saturated and trans fat you consume and limit things that are high in cholesterol.
Part D of the label shows you dietary fiber and vitamins in each serving of food. This is probably the most overlooked part of any nutrition label, but you should pay close attention. Dietary fiber is good for promoting heart health and keeps your digestive track moving. Nutrients like calcium can help prevent osteoporosis, especially as you age.
% Daily Value (E)
The % daily value, part E, is there to help you understand the comparison and the quantity of nutrients to be consumed in one day, based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. A tip to remember: anything 5% or under is low and 20% or higher is too high.
Bottom of the label (F)
The bottom of the label—or the footnote—gives you the percentage of key nutrients you should consume, based on either a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie-a-day diet. You should keep in mind that the 2,000-2,500 calories are based on public health expert’s advice and may not be right for you. If you have a health condition or you’re trying to lose weight, you should consult your health care professional or a registered dietician to discuss your specific needs and goals.