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How to read a Nutrition Facts Label

Time to actually learn what you’ve pretended to know while staring at labels in the grocery store

I get it. It doesn’t really make sense to me either. The terminology, the percentages, and the conversions involved in trying to read a Nutrition facts label makes me never want to turn over another box of cereal. At a glance it seems over complicated, but I promise you will get the hang of it. You will actually be reading and comparing those labels to find the healthiest snacks in the store in no time. For the sake of a lengthy post, I am only going to go over some essential knowledge required to read the food label.

Lets start with a few fundamentals.

There are six types of nutrients that your body needs: carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. These can be further distinguished into macro and micro nutrients. Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are macro-nutrients while vitamins, minerals, and water are micro-nutrients.

Our macro-nutrients can be seen on the Nutrition Label, starting with total fat. There are different kinds of fat, both good and bad, but for the purpose of this blog we will focus on the two commonly expressed on the food label. That would be saturated and trans fats, a.k.a bad fats. Both indicate highly processed foods that should be avoided. Trans fats naturally occur in some foods, but in low amounts. Be sure to keep that in mind when reading a food label.

Then we have our total carbohydrates, also expressed in grams. Two sub categories of carbohydrates than can be seen on a Nutrition Label are dietary fiber and sugar. I think we both know which to watch out for. What you may not know is that a food with some dietary fiber should be sought out. Most Americans are not getting to the recommended amount of dietary fiber for health, so make sure you are!

Finally we have our proteins! A personal favorite. It should be obvious what should have high amounts of protein: meats, fish, peanut butter, mixed nuts, etc.

Now that we know what and why things are on the food label, how do we read it and use it for our benefit? And what the heck are the percentages for? I’m getting there.

The percentages located to the right across from each item on the food label are the percent daily values. The Daily Values are how much of each Macro-Nutrient and Micro-Nutrient you should be eating a day, expressed as a percentage. For example, if your total fat has a Daily Value percentage of 15%, you will be eating 15% of the total fat you should be eating in a day. This is all based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so it may need adjusting depending on if you normally consume more or less than that.

Okay so you should be good to go! Not quite yet…don’t you want to know how you’ve been bamboozled by the serving sizes on the label?

The serving size let’s you know how many calories are in a serving. The number of calories expressed on the label is the number of calories in one serving. This is where you’ve been getting bamboozled. Most of the time, there is more than one serving in a container. The label will indicate how many servings.

I hope you learned some valuable information today that you will keep with you on your next visit to the grocery store! Please let me know if you have any questions!


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