Nutrition Label Know-How
You grab a package from the frozen foods and flip it over to scan its label. The calories and fat numbers look good, you think. The cholesterol level seems okay. But what about the daily value? Or the serving size? Or the nutrient value? Now the label looks like a foreign language.
The food label isn’t a federal conspiracy against the public. It was actually designed so you could effectively and easily consume a healthy diet. This information from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will help you decipher any food label.
This is the first thing you’ll see under the heading “Nutrition Facts.” It is listed in units that you’ll know like cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount (the number of grams). Pay attention to the serving size, and then consider how many servings you are eating. Those three handfuls of chips could take the serving size through the roof!
Calories and Calories from Fat: The calories on the label show how much energy you get from a serving of this food. Calories from fat means how many calories in a single serving come from fat. Note that the number of servings you eat determines the number of calories you consume.
The guide is based on a 2,000 calories a day diet. So 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate and 400 calories or more is high.
This part of the label can help you both limit and increase your nutrient intake. Nutrients such as fat, cholesterol and sodium are listed first, in yellow, and are items that people should limit. Words in blue or below a black bar, such as vitamin A, C, calcium and iron, are items people are encouraged to consume.
You’ll also see % Daily Value (%DV) in the right-hand column of the nutrients’ section. These percentages can help you determine which nutrients contribute to your daily recommended allowance. The column doesn’t add up vertically to 100 percent because each nutrient is based on 100 percent of the daily requirements for that nutrient. Overall, 5 percent DV or less is low for all nutrients and 20 percent is high, whether you want to limit them (such as fat, saturated fat, cholesterol or sodium) or if you should eat more of them (such as fiber or calcium).
You can also use the %DV to compare similar brands or products. Just make sure the serving sizes and weights are similar. Also use %DV to distinguish which among the “reduced fat,” “light” or “nonfat” versions of something is better for you. To do this, compare the %DVs of total fat in each product to one another.
You’ll also see that trans fats, sugars and proteins don’t have a Daily Value or %DV. Here’s why:
Trans fats: Experts didn’t create a value for trans fat to establish a %DV. However, health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.
Proteins: The %DV for protein only has to be listed if the product is meant for children or infants, or if the product is touted as “high in protein.”
Sugars: Sugar doesn’t have a %DV because no recommendations have been made by the FDA about the total amount to eat in a day.