Get the facts

Nutritional info on product labels are not always easy to decipher. Here are a few key points to understanding a Nutrition Facts label.

A young woman reading the label of a product in an organic grocery store

Start with the serving size:

  • Check what the serving size is & the number of servings in the container.
  • Compare YOUR portion size to the serving size. If the label says “2 crackers” per serving and you eat 12 crackers, this will affect all the nutrition facts listed.
 

Let the % Daily Value be your guide:

  • The % Daily Value is based off a 2000 calorie diet. It is helpful to determine if a food item is high or low in nutrients. 
  • If a food has 5% or less of a nutrient, it is low in that nutrient.
    • Try to aim low in total fat, sugar, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • If a food has 20% or more of a nutrient, it is high in that nutrient.
    • Try to consume foods higher in fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals.
    • A good fiber source has 3 grams or more per serving.
    • Low sodium foods have <300 mg for snack portions and <500 mg for meal portions. 
 

Total fat:

  • Saturated fat intake may contribute to heart disease. Choose foods with 3 grams or less of saturated fat and zero grams of trans fat. 
  • Unsaturated fats are more heart healthy and are fine to consume in moderation.
 

Check the ingredient list:

  • Items are listed in descending order by weight. The more ingredients a food has, the more processed it is. In most cases, it is better to consume foods that are not as processed.
  • Any item that contains “trans fat” will have some type of “partially hydrogenated oil” listed in the ingredient list. It is best to avoid these types of fats as they have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease.
  • Pay attention to enriched versus whole-wheat flours. If enriched flour is listed before whole-wheat flour, this may not be the best choice.
 

Summary:

  • Protein and fiber will fill you up.
  • Rather than just look at calories, try to focus on those key nutrients that will provide you with the most satiety.
  • Try to eat foods that don’t have a food label, like fruits and vegetables. They contain fiber, vitamins and minerals that are important for health.
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