Having a hard time understanding all those tricky terms on Nutrition Facts labels? Do not fear because you are not alone. Saturated fat, trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, carboxymethyl cellulose, sodium hexametaphosphate, maltodextrin… it’s all too much to digest. We want to help you understand the foods you’re eating so you can tell if you’re eating healthy or not.
People look at Nutrition Facts labels for different reasons. Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to know what you’re putting into your body. Before you jump into the ingredients, take the time to read the Nutrition Facts label. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about Nutrition Facts labels.
Portion size: Start by looking at the serving size, which is the exact measurement to which all the calories, fat, sugars or sodium belong. If the serving size is one cup, for example, all amounts apply to that measurement. The 150 calories in that one cup serving doubles if you eat 2 servings. Chances are, a packet, bag, or bottle of something is not a serving size.
calories: The next, and often most prominent, thing people look at is calories. The number of calories translates to the amount of energy you’ll get from one serving of that food. Many Americans consume too many calories as a result of portion distortion. The calorie section of each nutrition label can help people count calories if they are trying to lose weight. In the average American diet, the standard daily caloric intake is 1,800 to 2,200 calories for adult women and 2,000 to 2,500 calories for adult men. These are average estimates that vary based on physical activity and health conditions. Remember: If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day.
Sodium: The average American eats too much salt. Your maximum daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon). If you are over 40 or have high blood pressure, it is recommended to consume 1,500 mg of sodium per day or less. It is best to avoid as much salt as possible, as excessive salt intake can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, or atherosclerosis. If you add salt to your food, there are natural salts that are better for you than regular table salt.
fats: There are good fats and bad fats. Fats that are unsaturated are acceptable to consume, in adequate amounts of course. You want to put something back on the shelf if it contains saturated or trans fat. Both of these can lead to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and decreased HDL (good) cholesterol levels. When looking for fats on a Nutrition Facts label, be sure to also check the ingredient list. Due to a labeling loophole, companies are allowed to put 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, even if the product says it is fat-free. How to review: Check the ingredients to see if there is any hydrogenated oil. If there are any, the product has some trans fats.
Sugars: Sugars go by many names, so check the ingredient list for names like galactose, dextrose, fructose, or glucose. There are also added sugars or sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided. Natural sweeteners like stevia or organic agave are best. Sugars can be in unlikely foods to add flavor. They may be in unhealthy cereals or salad dressings. So watch out for hidden sugars.
Carbohydrates: Sugars, fiber, and refined carbohydrates (avoid them) all fall under the carbohydrate umbrella. Carbohydrates are a great source of energy if you choose the right ones to eat. Complex carbohydrates, often found in whole grains or fruits and vegetables, are much better than refined carbohydrates. Incorporating fibrous fruits and vegetables into your diet can help improve digestion, increase energy levels, and you’ll eat less because you’ll feel fuller.
Vitamins and minerals: Most Americans don’t get enough vitamins A and C. Keep an eye out for these and make sure you get your daily dose. You can also eat fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure, if not exceed, your daily requirement for most vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper health. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are excellent minerals, some of which are found primarily in avocados, dark leafy greens, raw nuts and seeds, or bananas, among many other foods. You can also take herbal supplements to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
Ingredients: The ingredients are on the label for a reason, and they’re small for a reason, too! Many people overlook the ingredients, some of which can be harmful to health. The most prominent ingredients in the food are listed first. If the ingredient is too difficult to pronounce, we recommend staying away from it. Look for short ingredient lists that have ingredients that are easy to understand.
This is a lot to take in, but I hope it has helped you understand Nutrition Facts labels a little better. If you have any questions about what is best to consume/avoid for your health, feel free to email or call us. We are here to help.