How to Read a Nutrition Label
Did you know that most people do not know how to read a simple nutrition label? A nutrition label tells you so much about the food that you are eating and it is vital to learn to read one if you are counting calories or, especially, macronutrients.
Not familiar with reading them? Luckily, we have broken down each and every part of a basic nutrition label just for you!
Here’s how your average nutrition label or “Nutrition Facts” appears on many products:
Let’s start with the basics.
- Serving Size: This basically tells you how big one serving actually is. Sizes range from tablespoons, cups, ounces-you name it. It just depends on the product! If you are familiar with your metric measurements then you should not have an issue. The information on the nutriton label is based upon the serving size itself-that is why you see the serving size listed first and foremost. Take the above lable for instance: 1 cup is the serving size and all info on the label is revolved around that 1 cup of food.
- Servings Per Container: This number will tell you how many servings you will get in the entire package or box. From looking at the above label, you will get 2 servings out of the container. If a serving size is 1 cup, as mentioned above, then there are a total of 2 cups of food in the entire product. Which is why there are only two servings. Got it? So, if you eat 2 servings aka the whole container, you must then multiply the information listed on the label by 2. Same as if you ate 3 servings and so forth.
- Calories: This gives a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of that food. Eating foods that are packed with nutrients without being too high in calories means it is a nutrient-dense food—and a good choice. The calories listed on the sample label are
- Fat: On to the nutrients part of the label! Fat will be the firt macronutrient that you see on any given nutrition label. It simply tells you how many grams of fat are in each servings and even breaks the fat down into a few different types: the main ones being saturated & trans fats and then there’s also monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats. Fat itself should not be avoided entirely, but you must choose the GOOD FATS instead of the BAD FATS. The good fats are your unsaturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats listed on the label. And the bad? Trans & saturated! Unsaturated fat is good for the heart and usually can be found in liquid form at room temperature, like olive oil. Saturated fats are found in meats and animal products and high levels are known to contribute to heart disease. Trans fats are the worst and should be avoided as much as possible since they have zero benefits to them. Trans fats are man-made and have been linked to diabetes, heart disease, cardiovascular diseases and other still emerging health risks.
- Cholesterol: Right after the Fats, comes Cholesterol on the label-a waxy, fat like substance which is known to regulate hormones just like fats. But beware: too much cholesterol in the blood can damage arteries and cause cardiovascular disease. This is why many adults have their cholesterol checked every year. Foods with a high cholesterol content should be avoided when possible.
- Sodium: Sodium is basically your normal table salt, in laymans terms. Sodium is not evil entirely though as it regulates your blood pressure & volume. However, too much of anything is never a good thing-it can raise your blood pressure considerably and you may experience swelling in your hands & feet as it increases your blood volume way too much if your intake is too high. Healthy adults should limit sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day while those with high blood pressure should keep it to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
- Total Carbohydrates: Carbs are GREAT for the body. I repeat, GREAT. However, you need to pick the right carbs wisely. There are two types of carbs: good (complex) and bad (simple). Complex carbs contain more fiber and nutrients than simple carbs which are basically sugars that do nothing for you, besides supply a little energy and leave you craving more carbs/sugar. It is a super idea to track your good and bad carbs to make sure you choose more of the complex kinds such as whole grains, brown rice, and whole wheat. They also help keep you feeling fuller for a longer amount of time, thanks to the fiber.
- Dietary Fiber: Fiber is very important for the body. Food high in fiber, due to the inability to be digested, also helps you stay fuller, longer. There are two types: insoluble and soluble. Soluble fiber breaks down in water and some good sources include oats and oatmeal, legumes (peas, beans, lentils), barley, fruits and vegetables (especially oranges, apples and carrots). Insoluble fiber does not absorb or dissolve in water. It passes through our digestive system in close to its original form. Insoluble fiber offers many benefits to intestinal health, including a reduction in the risk and occurrence of hemorrhoids and constipation. The scientific names for insoluble fibers include cellulose, lignins, and also some other hemicelluloses. Most of insoluble fibers come from the bran layers of cereal grains.
- Sugar: SUPER important part to track on a food label. You want to limit your sugar intake as much as you can throughout the day as there are zero benefits from this quick form of energy that fizzles out quickly. There are many types of sugar: natural, added, and artifical. Obviously, natural sugars such as ones found in fruit are going to be your best bet. However, eating too much of any sugar can lead to Diabetes, High Blood Pressure, Weight Gain, and more.
- Protein: Next up on the label is Protein, the building blocks of muscle. In a nutshell, your need protein-at least 1 gram per pound of body weight for the average person to be exact. Looking at this part can easily help you calculate your protein intake for the day to make sure you stay on track with your goals.
- Vitamin A, C, Calcium and Iron: Basically, these are the main and most important vitamins that the body needs in order to function throughout the day properly. Some foods will have more vitamins than other foods and it’s always a great idea to try to aim for the most nutritious foods out there or most nutrient/vitamin packed. By looking at this section, it makes it so much easier for you.
- Percent Daily Value (% DV): This is the part of the nutrition label that is based on the amount of nutrients in a typical individual’s needs in a day. Note that 5 percent DV or less is low and 20 percent DV or more is high. Then, look for the nutrients to limit: saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium, and for the nutrients to seek: fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron. For the nutrients to limit, stay within 5 percent DV and, for the nutrients to increase, aim for 20 percent DV or higher. By limiting foods you eat that are high fat, cholesterol, and sodium (20 percent DV or more), you are helping to reduce your risk of disease and promoting weight loss or maintenance. Eating foods high in the nutrients required for your body to function properly, like vitamins, minerals and fiber, will also reap these same rewards.
- Ingredients: Lastly, but certainly not least, you have your ingredients list. This is the part of the nutrition label that most people’s eyes tend to wander toward when desiring to eat clean. The very first ingredient listed is what the product mainly consists of. All ingredients are listed in the order as its found within the food. If wheat flour is the first ingredient, the product is made up mostly of wheat flour. If sugar is second on the list, the product is secondly made up of sugar. Always read this part of the nutrition label, but do not focus on just the ingredients alone!
As you can see, there is a whole lot that goes into reading one little nutrition label, but I hope you now have a better understanding of how it all works together! If you have never read a label before, I encourage you to take a little time out of your day and go visit your pantry to check out some labels. It can really make or break your weightloss (or weight gain) journey!