Simplifying a Nutrition Label

Simplifying a Nutrition Label

We are all guilty of grabbing something quick to eat and not paying close attention to the nutrition label. It happens! However, reading the labels for your favorite brands just once will give you the information you need to make healthy choices.

Reading nutrition labels allows you to monitor the micro- and macro-nutrients you are consuming, which in turn can help with weight loss and disease prevention.  When reading a nutrition label there are several things you want to consider:

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Always start with the Portion Sizes and Servings Per Container (1). This determines whether you will need to do a bit of math when looking at the nutrients below.  For example, if you are going to eat 1 cup of the food, but the serving size is 1/2 cup, you would multiply the nutrition facts by 2.  In this case, the amount sugars would actually be 56g rather than the 28g listed.

The next fact to consider is Calories (2).  To identify the amount of calories you should consume each day, knowing your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is useful. This is the amount of energy an individual uses for normal life function (hair growth, sweating, skin replenishment, movement of blood through the body etc.)

Total Fats (3) are the first macro-nutrient you read when reading a food label, and accounts for >15% of energy we need from foods. Counting fats can be confusing because there’s a lot of talk of good vs. bad fats, and fats vs. sugar: which are destroying our health? Fats are an important part of daily consumption and should never be eliminated from the diet. To identify high vs low, note that Percent Daily Value (%DV), at the right side outlines what percentage of the recommended serving of fats this particular food contains.  If the %DV is 5 or less then consumption/portion is considered on the lower range. However, if %DV is greater than 20 then consumption/portion is considered on the higher range.

It is also important to note that Total Fats take into consideration both the bad fats (Saturated Fats & Trans Fats) (4) and good fats [monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), & polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA)]. It does not take a brain scientist to figure out that bad fats should be limited daily or not consumed at all: high levels of Trans and saturated fats have been linked to Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes and even Cancer. Meanwhile, MUFA’s & PUFA’s provide us with great sources in Omega-3 and Omega-6 which is responsible for the popularity of the Mediterranean Diet.

Sodium (5) is the measurement of salt in foods and food products. The American Heart Association recommends that sodium consumption should never exceed daily values of 2,300 milligrams (mg) and for refined limitations an individual should not consume more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Again, checking the %DV is very helpful in that it helps choose how much sodium you will consume at any given meal.

Total Carbohydrate (6) values help us to understand the amount of glucose we can expect to linger in our blood system, which can lead to pre-diabetes and diabetes. Carbohydrate is the second macro-nutrient read when reading a food label and accounts for >50% of our daily energy requirements. Knowing details of carbohydrate consumption helps to limit the risk of this disease and lower waist circumference. At 42g and a 14% DV we know that this amount of carbohydrate on this label is not high but approaching the high range. We also have to consider that items that fall within the 5% to 20% DV range are possibly not the only source of carbohydrate that will be consumed that day. So, be mindful of how all items you consume and remember to read the label for each item you use when making or choosing your meals.

To get a proper bowl movement, speed up the absorption of glucose in the blood to avoid build up or to lower the blood values of cholesterol high daily consumption of fiber (7) is recommended. When choosing items high in fiber ensure that each serving provides 5 grams (g) or more. At 14g and 56% DV this item is definitely an excellent source of fiber!

Sugar (8) consumption should be one of the most important items you identify on every food label. If the serving size is greater than 5g then you should know that this item could be detrimental to health. Be aware that the value listed for sugar as this may not be the only form of sugar in the food. Keep an eye out for artificial sugars like: aspartame, sucralose, Acesulfame K, Saccharin, Xylitol, sorbitol and High Fructose corn Syrup.

Protein (9) is the third macro-nutrient needed on a daily basis for energy requirements and accounts for >35% of the daily energy needs. Protein is also one of the most valuable nutrients individuals need at every meal as it is the building block for muscle in the human body and likewise improving an individual’s metabolic processing of nutrients themselves. Daily protein consumption should always be greater that 5g per serving and at 11g and 22% DV, this example provides an excellent source of this nutrient.

Percent Daily Value (10) on nutrition fact labels are based on an average of 2000 calories consumed daily.  Again, BMR determines the amount of calories you consume. Items that affects BMR is the amount resistance exercises an individual accomplishes to build larger muscles. The larger the muscle mass of an individual the greater the requirements calories per day.

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By law, information about Calories, Fat, Sodium, Carbohydrate and Protein must be listed on a label.  Some countries are using new techniques to make reading labels easier for consumers.  In Europe, food manufacturers have improved the likelihood of an individual reading and understanding food labels by using this shortened method, at the front of the package. Not only is it color-coded like a traffic light (green=low, yellow=medium, red=high), %DV are also clearly listed to ensure nutritional successes when selecting foods at the super market.

Practice following the simple steps above at your next meal.  Now that you know how to simplify a nutrition label, you can be confident in making mindful decisions about what you eat!

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