How to Read Nutrition Labels

Becki Andrus

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To some, the label on the side or back of a food package is a foreign language. They may understand the words and numbers, but not what they mean to their own life and how they apply in relation to the food product. Often people barely take the time to read and consider the labels at all. The fact is, what is written on the labels can help consumers make better choices on what to feed their families, and promote healthy eating in general.

Nutrition Facts Panel for Ground BeefThe nutrition labels are a requirement by the FDA on some packages so that consumers are informed of the nutrient content and nutritional value of the foods they want to eat. It is a good idea to read the label with every food purchase, so that those with certain health conditions or who are on a particular eating plan may organize their meals according to their nutritional needs.

Here is a quick break down of the different categories on the food packages and their significance, to take the confusion out of the given information.

First there is the serving size information, at the top of the box, that basically tells how much each person consuming would eat for a portion to be considered a serving. They are typically measured in cups, but can be in pieces. It also tells how many servings are available per package, which helps with meal planning. Eating one serving give the amounts of the fat, cholesterol, protein, and carbohydrates listed in the next section, and doubling

The next small section provides the amount of calories per serving, as well as the amount of calories from the fat content alone in each serving. What remains is the calories from other nutrients in the food.

The following and largest section is the nutrient section, where the primary nutrients in the food are listed. The measurements are in grams usually. Sub-nutrients, such as trans-fats, saturated fats, fiber and sugar, are listed under their respective nutrient categories, giving an additional breakdown of the nutrient content. Keep in mind that although the trans-fats and saturated fats may have 0g, there may actually be a very minuscule amount of these items in the food.

At the very top of that section far to the right, there is a label for the percentage of the daily value recommended for (usually) a 2,000 calorie diet. The average person needs around 2,000 calories a day to meet the body's nutritional needs and in order for it to function effectively. The percentages listed vertically under that and across from each nutrient tell what percentage is in each serving toward the total nutritional needs of the average person. Any percentage over 20% is considered high.

Additional nutrients may be found below this section. The percentage of the recommended daily value are included in this area for those particular nutrients. Footnotes are also at the bottom of the chart. This is where we find that the label information is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but it also tells what the total recommended needs are per day. For someone who is dieting, adjusting to consuming less than the recommended amount of some items is necessary. It is always good to check with a doctor before participating in diets that greatly reduce nutritional intake.

Each person's caloric needs vary, and one person may need more or less depending on their own individual lifestyle and health concerns. But the nutritional labels on food packages are valuable tools to help make good nutritional choices for each meal.

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  • Wice says
    I always try to read the labels of unfamiliar products – not for anything in particular, but rather to see whether one constituent stands out – eg, high sodium, calories etc. - which might act as a warning against my buying it. As soon as I have made a decision ad bought the product however, I seem to forget all about this and never refer to the nutrtition labels once a product is in my pantry.

    However, one of my gripes is that nutrition labels are often printed at a size just too small for me to be able to read in the supermarket. I often see others struggling as well. Some packaging isn't very big so that it can't be helped. However, often this isn't the case and I almost feel like the manufacturer is trying to hide something.

    What also makes me cross this the very misleading 'highlight' labels put on some food products to make them appear 'better; than their competitors. I see these all the time but can't think of one at the moment. An example would be 'sugar free' on a bottle of oil - of course it is!

    My final moan concerns prepacked fruit and vegetables. Too often the weight of is not included on prepacked fruit and vegetable bags/boxes. I want to know how much one brand's box of strawberries weights in comparison to another brand. Of course it's difficult with the irregular shapes, but even an approximate weight would be far better than nothing!
  • Dee-Dee says
    I am trying to teach myself to read labels more when shopping hopefully without my man tagging along cause apparently I take to long but he is constantly reminded that it is for both of our benefits...It is also interesting when you see some of the ingredients put into products you like to eat....I don't like the fat free label on products to, because they are misleading because those items are usually high in sugar etc...but I would have to say labeling in NZ is so much better than other places I have lived in some places they were non-existent
  • Rosie says
    Thanks for this vital information, Becki :)
  • Anna says
    o00o0 good info.. have been trying to learn to label read!! thanks!!
  • KH says
    Most products don't seem to list calorie content. I wish they did as I've been trying to restrict my calorie intake slightly for the past few weeks.
  • Rosie says
    I think you take the Kj reading & divide it by 3, or 4 to get calories.
  • HI,
    Great information posted here.. Thanks for sharing this unique information..
  • New Member says
    And if you have some problems with that, you may just ask your therapist. read how to choose him properly at http://www.writingroom.com/viewwriting/GeorgeWolfson/How-to-Choose-a-Therapist And good luck with your health!

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