Food labels are meant to be helpful—one look and you should instantly be able to tell if an item is nutritious or not. But all too often, they’re more confusing than clear. Does this soup have too much sodium? How important is total fat? Should I even care about carbohydrates?
Nutrition labels can be a great tool for managing a heart-healthy diet, which makes it very important that you understand what you’re looking at when you read a label.
Nutrition labels are based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your age, gender, and activity level, you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories per day, so keep this in mind when viewing each label.
Now let’s take a look at the parts of the nutrition facts label and break it all down.
1 -Serving Size
This is where you find out how much is considered a single serving of the product. If you are looking for healthy snacks, you can use this measurement to pre-prep snack bags to take to work – keep on hand in your car or purse for quick healthy food options.
2 – Total Calories
This number relates to the serving size. The calories listed here are what one single serving holds.
3 – Fats: Saturated and Trans
The American Heart Association recommends aiming for a dietary pattern that achieves 5% to 6% of calories from saturated fat. For example, if you need about 2,000 calories a day, no more than 120 of them should come from saturated fat. That’s about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Therefore, if the label indicates that the food is high in saturated fat, then it is not an ideal food for a healthy diet.
Trans fats should be avoided altogether, as they have been connected with an increased risk not only of heart disease and stroke, but also Type II diabetes.
Cholesterol free means that the food must contain fewer than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving. Please realize that a food claiming to be low in cholesterol or cholesterol-free does not mean the food is fat-free. Vegetable oils contain no cholesterol, but they are 100% fat. The Daily Value for cholesterol is less than 300 mg per day.
For a healthy diet, you should always try to keep your sodium intake to about 2300 mg per day. A sodium level of 140 mg or less on the nutrition facts label is considered low sodium. This is an essential number to look for when reading the label.
6- Total Carbohydrates: Fiber and Sugar
Foods high in fiber can be beneficial to a healthy diet, as fiber helps manage blood sugar levels and can lower cholesterol.
However, if the product contains a large amount of sugar, even if it’s rich in fiber, don’t buy it! Simple sugars can give you that quick burst of energy. But they can raise triglyceride levels, which play a role in heart disease and diabetes. Added sugars in grams is now required on the nutrition facts label. It is recommended that you consume no more than ten percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.
Protein is part of an overall healthy diet but beware of adding unnecessary fats from fatty meats and processed foods.
8 – Vitamins and Other Nutrients
Nutrients like calcium, iron, and vitamins play an important role in a healthy diet! This section provides great information to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. The daily values for nutrients have been updated on the revised nutrition facts label to reflect new scientific evidence.
In addition to being on the back of your favorite products, nutrition information can be found in more places than usually expected. Restaurants have started to provide full nutrition data as part of their online menus. This is a huge help for those who are looking for healthier dine-out options.
I am happy to help you navigating through the food label and learning how a healthy diet should be. Reach out to me if you’d like support in taking the first step -or keeping up with the current ones.