Reading nutrition labels is not only good for you and your own needs, but it is also good when you are cooking for other people. If you know someone has a gluten-free diet, you’ll need to make sure you get something without any gluten. The same goes for anyone who might have a food allergy, as those are stated around the ingredients list just below the nutrition label on most food packages. This is also helpful when you are looking at food for your pets. The labels aren’t exactly the same, but knowing how to read a regular nutrition label can still help.
Here’s what you need to know about reading nutrition labels.
Number of Servings and Serving Sizes
Take note that nutritional facts are mostly based on one serving only. Always check the serving size to know how many servings you are going to consume. This means that the bigger the serving, the higher the calories.
Along with that, you need to know how many servings would be you would approximately be consuming. Take a bag of chips, for example. Usually, at the top of the label, it will tell you how many chips make up a single serving. From there, you’ll know just how much sodium you’ll be eating from a serving size of 11 chips, for example. Most people eat more than 11 chips, of course, but you can still get a general idea of how much sodium you’ll be consuming based on how many chips you are eating.
When you are comparing nutrients and calories between two different food brands, always review the serving sizes to ensure that they are based on the same measurement. Many brands will have slightly different serving sizes, but as long as you are comparing two things that are the same, you should get a good idea of the differences in nutrition.
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Pay Attention to the Number of Calories
The “Calories” label under “Amount per Serving” is where you will see the number of calories the product has per serving. You’ll also see the number of calories from fat here.
Take note that even if something is fat-free, it doesn’t mean that it’s also free from calories. Even if a product is low-fat, it may have the same number of calories as other products, so always check the number of calories in the label.
One thing to keep in mind is that just because something has a lot of calories, it doesn’t mean that you are eating badly. You should be more concerned about how many of those calories come from fat. If a lot of the calories are from fat, then you might want to steer clear of that product. Alternatively, you might check whether another brand has that product with less calories from fat. Then, you’ll still be able to get the food you want, but it will be a lot better for you.
Calories are not inherently bad. What is bad is consuming too many calories every day and not burning enough of them off. If you mix that with a lot of calories from fat, you might notice some weight staying on your body. If, however, you work out regularly, you can get away with eating things that have a lot of calories. Of course, you also need to balance that out with eating healthy things as well, given that you can’t quickly and easily lose weight by eating junk all the time, no matter how much you work out.
As an example, a product lists that there are 100 calories per 3 candy bars. This means that when you eat 6 candy bars, you consumed 2 servings, and thus, you have consumed twice the amount of calories.
The %Dv is Your Friend
%Dv or the percentage of Dietary Value that each nutrient gives is essential for you to know how much of each nutrient you should consume daily to live a healthy life. If you want to use this most effectively, you’ll need to make sure that you record the %Dv of all that you consume each day. If any nutrients go over 100, then you’ll know you’re consuming more than you need to. You should try to keep it as close to 100 as possible.
This is also a great way to find out if you’re not consuming enough of any particular nutrient. Anemia is very common and can be prevented by making sure you’re taking in enough iron. If you are consistently not consuming enough every day, you should find ways to add to it. There are plenty of foods that can help you take in more iron every day. Just to make sure that you are consuming enough nutrients, be sure to look at the nutrition label!
Look for Products that are Rich in Calcium, Iron, and Vitamins A and C
Most adults do not get enough of these vitamins and minerals through their daily food consumption. It would be extremely beneficial if you choose products that are rich in these vitamins and minerals. The best way to make sure you are getting enough is by simply finding foods that have a good mix of these nutrients. There are tons of foods out there that can give you everything you need, so make sure to look at the nutrition labels.
Choose Good Fats
Again, it’s alright to consume fats just as long as they are the right kinds of fats. Choose foods that are low in cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans-fat. As often as possible, replace saturated fats with mono or poly-saturated fats to lower your blood cholesterol levels.
Some products list trans-fat as having 0%Dv, but it would be best to consume only a little or truly eliminate them from your diet because trans-fat lowers the amount of good cholesterol, which makes you susceptible to heart diseases.
Take note that the %Dv for total fat is the computation of all the kinds of fat in one product.
Check the Sodium Content
This is definitely an important thing to check. A lot of foods have salt that’s already been added in, and some foods can have a ton of salt. An average adult should be consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams a day. Some packaged foods can have over 1,000 milligrams in them already, especially if it’s a frozen dinner type of food. Therefore, you should find lower sodium foods by not only making your own dinners from scratch, but also cutting out canned and processed foods as much as possible.
Some foods have the sodium content on the front of the package, so you might not even have to look specifically at the nutrition label to find what you need. At the same time, it’s always helpful to look at the label anyway. You might find that it’s not as bad as you originally thought.
It might not come as much of a shock, but knowing how to read nutrition labels can help you maintain your weight. If you keep track of how much saturated and trans-fat you are eating every day, this can help you lessen your fat intake. Moreover, you can find exactly what foods you need to eat in order to lose weight in the most effective way. Foods that are high in nutrients and low in fat and calories are great ones to eat.
Even though calorie counting is what most people do when going on a diet, it really is not very effective. Eating something low in calories doesn’t mean you are eating healthy. When you think about it, something could have very few calories, but a lot of those calories are from fat. However, eating a proper diet that is a mixture of all the good things you need will ensure better results.
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You must at least learn about the supplement facts label, which contains most of the basic information about the product, as well as serving size, the number of servings per container, ingredients, and amounts of each nutrient in the product.
Go for Healthy Carbohydrates
Remember that fiber and sugar are also carbohydrate sources. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are carbohydrates, but they are good in reducing the risk of heart disease. Moreover, they improve the way your digestive system works.
You’ll know that something is considered “whole” or is part of the “whole foods” group if it says so in the ingredient list. Examples include whole oats, whole wheat rice, and whole wheat bread.
While there is no %Dv for sugar, you can check how much sugar there is in one product by comparing it with other brands and looking for “sugar content.”
Try to limit your intake of foods that include added sugars. Examples of added sugars include corn syrup, fructose, glucose, maple syrup, and sucrose. All these sugars do is add calories to your diet without adding any nutritional benefits.
You might notice that there are very few foods now that don’t have corn syrup in some capacity. High-fructose corn syrup is in many different foods because it’s cheap to make and is an easy additive to food. However, that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
High-fructose corn syrup is a variation of sugar, but it is much sweeter. It is also in a lot of foods at a higher amount than regular sugar usually is. Look at any label of a food that has this additive, and you’ll notice that many times, it is the very first ingredient. Sugar in large amounts is already very unhealthy, so having something like this is almost worse. Given that it is in so many different foods, trying to find foods without it is hard. Although it would be better to go without, a good first step is finding the foods where it is not the first ingredient but lower down the ingredient list.
Protein May Be Essential, But You Should Still Go for Low-Fat
Always choose products that are lean, fat-free, or low-fat to be able to maximize protein intake and to ensure that fats are burned or converted into energy. When you take a piece of chicken, there shouldn’t be very much fat on the chicken itself if it is low-fat or lean. It’s very easy to tell for chicken, because the fat is white. If it is a meat where you can easily see the fat, then you should make sure to look at it before you purchase it.
Steak is a wonderful source of protein, but not all steak cuts are the same. Some of them will have a lot more fat than others. The leanest cuts include various round cuts and top sirloin. You can always double check any cut of steak by seeing if there is a lot of white fat on it. The less there is, the better.
For something like chicken, it’s best to go without the skin. The skin holds a lot of fat, so it isn’t the best idea to eat chicken skin when you are trying to lose weight. Even if you can’t buy skinless chicken, you can always take the skins off before cooking. Moreover, the healthiest part of the chicken is the breast, so try to get skinless chicken breasts if you can.
Look at the List of Ingredients
Of course, when reading a nutrition label, this is probably very obvious. However, it can be an easy way to see if the product is healthy to eat or not right away. If the first ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup or sugar, for example, then you know that it isn’t a healthy product. Ingredients are typically listed in order from the main or most used ingredient to the ingredient with the smallest amount in the product.
Picking a product that has a natural ingredient first will always be the healthier choice. If you are looking for a bottled tea from the store, as an example, and the first ingredient is syrup or sugar, that’s not a good brand. Pick one that has water or brewed tea as the first ingredient. Again, this may all be obvious, but it’s good to mention because it will save you time at the grocery store because you won’t have to read so many labels all the way through! You’d be shocked at how many products don’t have a natural ingredient listed first.
Keep these things in mind to make better, healthier choices the next time you visit your grocery store.