Dessina King, LPN and Karla Robinson, MD
Many times we’ve heard the phrase “You are what you eat”. But how many of us can say we really know what we’re eating? It’s estimated that 90% of chronic illnesses today are diet related. These include diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, and even some cancers. Some simple, yet profound changes can alter the course of your life and health.
Challenge yourself to start paying more attention to your diet by reading nutritional labels and educating yourself on not only what you are eating, but how much you are eating. Often times we go about our busy day consuming calories along the way without realizing it. Once you take stock of how much you are truly eating, it may stop you in your tracks, and cause you to make some necessary changes in your diet.
Reading nutritional facts on a food item can be tricky and little misleading if you aren’t familiar with the format. Let’s learn the basics and improve our nutritional literacy today!
The first item on the label you will encounter is the serving size. The next item is servings per container. You have to use these numbers together to know what you are really eating. The rest of the nutritional facts are usually listed per serving, so you must know if the entire food package contains just one serving or more. There is a BIG difference between per serving and per package.
Let’s look at an example…
A small bag of chips may not look like a lot of calories at first. The total calories on the label may read 250 calories. A snack with just 250 calories certainly seems reasonable to curb the mid-day hunger craving. However, the calories are always listed per serving and often times those small bags of chips may contain two servings or more! Now we see that 250 calorie snack is truthfully a 500 calorie snack, and all of the other nutritional values listed like sodium, carbohydrates, and fat content need to be doubled as well. It’s easy to be fooled if not paying close attention.
The label will typically show the amount of fats, carbohydrates, other nutrients such as protein, fiber, vitamins & minerals as recommended daily value percentages. These values are based on a standard 2,000 or 2,500 calorie per day diet as set by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). However, these dietary requirements are not the same for everyone. Sometimes medical restrictions may call for a modified diet. Some common restrictions include calorie restriction for those needing to lose weight, sodium restriction for those following a heart healthy diet, or a renal (kidney) diet, or carbohydrate restriction for those needing better blood sugar control. If you are unsure if you should follow the guidelines for a regular 2,000 calorie per day diet, you need to speak with your physician.
Remember to read closely and eat carefully. Review the label below and improve your nutritional label IQ!
Provided by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services/U.S. Food and Drug Administration www.fda.gov
This section is the basis for determining number of calories, amount of each nutrient, and %DVs of a food. Use it to compare a serving size to how much you actually eat. Serving sizes are given in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., number of grams.
Amount of Calories
If you want to manage your weight (lose, gain, or maintain), this section is especially helpful. The amount of calories is listed on the left side. The right side shows how many calories in one serving come from fat. In this example, there are 250 calories, 110 of which come from fat. The key is to balance how many calories you eat with how many calories your body uses. Tip: Remember that a product that’s fat-free isn’t necessarily calorie-free.
Limit these Nutrients
Eating too much total fat (including saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure. The goal is to stay below 100%DV for each of these nutrients per day.
Get Enough of these Nutrients
Americans often don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. Eating enough of these nutrients may improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.
Percent (%) Daily Value
This section tells you whether the nutrients (total fat, sodium, dietary fiber, etc.) in one serving of food contribute a little or a lot to your total daily diet.
The %DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Each listed nutrient is based on 100% of the recommended amounts for that nutrient. For example, 18% for total fat means that one serving furnishes 18% of the total amount of fat that you could eat in a day and stay within public health recommendations. Use the Quick Guide to Percent DV (%DV): 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high.
Footnote with Daily Values (%DVs)
The footnote provides information about the DVs for important nutrients, including fats, sodium and fiber. The DVs are listed for people who eat 2,000 or 2,500 calories each day.
- —The amounts for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are maximum amounts. That means you should try to stay below the amounts listed.