Food Labels: Read it right!!

In this article, we will examine how to read a typical food label, and also point out numbers to look for and numbers to avoid.This posting was actually planned as my first blog post. However, i had felt i had to present it in a more simplified manner…

By law, all packaged food products, and even most prepared foods, are required to carry a Nutrition Facts label. Learning to read and understand this food label is a key step when it comes to making informed and healthy diet decisions. For many people, successful weight loss starts in the supermarket. Understanding food labels can help you pick a healthier cereal, a more nutritious or a more natural peanut butter. In turn, these seemingly small choices can add up to weight loss and better health.

Serving Size & Serving Per Container: This is usually the first line of any food label. It is also an incredibly important piece of information. Often, less nutritious foods will try to make themselves seem healthier by breaking label information down into unrealistic serving sizes. For example, if a can of soda claims to have 100 calories, but the Servings Per Container equals three serving (in one can), you’re actually holding an incredibly fattening beverage. Put it down! Keep serving size in mind when reading the entire food label.

Calories: It is important to educate yourself about daily caloric needs. If you’ve already begun a diet, you may have a target daily calorie intake in mind. If not, common wisdom is that most women can burn 2,000 calories per day with no weight change. For men, the established number is 2,500. However, for those looking to lose, 1,200-1,500 calories or less is usually the target. With serving size in mind, look at the calories per serving and factor it in to your target daily intake. This is also a great point of comparison if you are choosing between two different food items.

Many food labels will also distinguish between “Calories” and “Calories From Fat.” Not all calories are bad calories, and you definitely need a healthy number just to give you enough energy to get through the day. However, calories from fat get stored (as fat) much quicker than other calories, and your body will burn these last. Try to avoid foods with a high Calories From Fat ratio.

% Daily Values: This section is basically broken into two halves. The upper half of the label can be categorized as nutrients that should be consumed in limited quantities. These usually include Total Fat, Cholesterol, Sodium and Total Carbohydrates. You will see that all of these values are in both percents and a number measurement (grams, ounces, etc.) The percentage is calculated based on the standard 2000 or 2500 calorie diet. Once you start reading the numbers on these potentially harmful nutrients, you will realize that it is very easy to go over your suggested daily maximum, and you may put down the pretzels and pick up some air popped popcorn instead. NOTE: Getting LESS THAN the numbers on this section of the food label is OK!

The second half of the % Daily Values food label looks at good nutrients. These contribute to good health, and few people get their daily recommended doses. Good nutrients include vitamins like Vitamin A and Vitamin C, and nutrients like Iron or Calcium. Fiber is also included on this half of the food label. Look for high numbers on this lower section, and choose these foods over lower numbers. Getting your daily suggested serving of these nutrients can reduce numerous health risks, including heart disease, cholesterol and bone disease.

NOTE: When comparing products at the supermarket, make sure that the pieces of the food label you are comparing are using the same measurements. Some may be in grams, while others may be in milligrams, ounces, etc.

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