By Ryan Lawson, Exercise Specialist at Riverview Health Rehab & Fitness
Nutrition labels provide a wealth of information about the contents of packaged foods and drinks. However, this information can seem a bit overwhelming if you don’t know what to look for or how to interpret it. Nutrition labels are required on packaged foods by the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1990. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is a great resource to learn how to read nutrition labels. Here are five key things to look for on a label:
- Serving size and servings per container: Understanding the serving size and number of servings per package is important when determining overall calorie and nutrient content. For example, a 20-ounce bottled drink may have a serving size of eight ounces, so consuming a whole bottle would be equal to drinking 2.5 servings—possibly more than a healthy amount.
- Calories and calories from fat: On a label, the term “calories” refers to the total number of calories per serving, while “calories from fat” is the amount of calories that come strictly from fat. It’s important to remember these numbers refer to calories per serving. So if the bottled drink mentioned above contains 100 calories per serving, drinking the entire 20 ounces would amount to 250 total calories consumed.
- Bad nutrients: Watch the amount of fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium you consume. A diet low in these nutrients may help reduce the risk of certain conditions such as cardiovascular disease.
- Good nutrients: Not all nutrients listed on nutrition labels should be limited. Dietary fiber, vitamins A and C, iron, and calcium are all nutrients that can help improve overall health.
- Percent Daily Value (%DV): For the majority of food, this percentage is listed on the nutrition label and can help you determine if a food choice is high or low in nutrients. The %DV number represents the amount of a specific nutrient per serving, based on recommended daily nutrient intake levels, which is often 2,000 calories a day. For example, a food that contains 50%DV of sodium means each serving contains half of all the sodium you should consume each day. Choose foods that contain low %DV in the “Bad nutrients” category and high %DV in the “Good nutrients” category. For reference, the FDA considers less than 5%DV as low and greater than 20%DV as high.
Reading nutrition labels is a great habit to develop as it can help guide you to make educated, healthy food choices. If you follow the above tips, you’ll be reading and interpreting labels with ease.