How can we make smart choices in what we buy if we don’t even know what the food labels mean? Not anymore! I’m here to help you understand what it all means from top to bottom!
What is a Food Nutrition Label?
Nutrition labels (or food labels) are required for all packaged foods. While I love having whole fresh foods as a big part of my diet, there are many packaged foods that can still be a great addition to a healthy diet.
Food labels were not always a thing. In the 1970’s there was a large increase in prepackaged food, which is when the label was first introduced. They have gone through many changes to be the label they are today.
The most recent update as of today was done in 2016. Knowing how to read a food label is an important building block for understanding overall health and wellness. However, the food label can’t help you unless you understand it.
What is on a food label
There are many parts to a food label. In simple terms, a food label tells you the serving information, calories, nutrients, percent daily values and below the label itself you will find the ingredients and allergens in a packaged food.
Within the nutrition area, you will see an array of information from amounts of macronutrients, cholesterol, sodium, vitamins and minerals.
Reading the Parts of a Food Label
When it comes to reading a food label, starting from the top and going down is the easiest approach. Here we will go through each section, information it contains and how to understand it.
Remember that the information given is for each serving of food (and for some they also include how much in the entire package).
At the very top of the food label is information on serving size and how many servings are in a food. Serving size has recently been changed to be the amount that is most common to consume. Also, if the number of servings falls between one and two, the label must show it as one.
If there is more than one serving, then the label needs to have two columns, one with information per serving and one with information for the entire package.
Servings sizes should be similar across foods to make it easy to compare. Just remember that if you are looking at the information given per serving, that this is the amount of the food you are eating. Or adjust if it is not.
The next area on the food label has the total amount of calories. Calories are basically how much energy a food has. Generally speaking, calories are the area focused on most when it comes to weight.
Many people ask how many calories are too many, while there is not right answer, according to the FDA, a very loose guide is:
40 calories = low100 calories = moderate400 or more calories = high
The next sections focus on the nutrient content. This is where the bulk of the information lies and there are some key things to pay attention to.
Next to each nutrient in this section you will see a % daily value in each serving. This tells you the percent that nutrient contributes towards the daily diet amount. These are based on a 2,000 calorie diet so the actual amounts you need may change. But looking at the percent will help give you an idea of how much that food contains.
To keep it simple, shoot for high percents for nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals, but target low percentages when it comes to saturated fats, sugar and sodium.
Let’s start with the macronutrients. You can read more about what macronutrients are in this episode.
Fat comes first. Fat is a necessary macronutrient that our body needs. However, it is calorie dense and is worth 9 calories per gram. There are 3 main types of fats: saturated, unsaturated and trans fats.
On a food label,