How to Decode Nutrition Labels

nfl_exampleThe Nutrition Facts label is usually the most reliable source on a food package for determining whether or not the food product is good for your health. Though studies have determined that approximately one in four labels is inaccurate, it’s still a useful guide for making smart food choices. How exactly do you read a food label? Follow these tips:

Read the serving size to determine calorie count. The Nutrition Facts label on a bag of chips might read 160 calories. However, this value corresponds to the serving, not necessarily the entire package. So remember to multiply the given number of calories by the number of servings stated at the top of the column, where it reads “Servings Per Container.”

Look at the nutrient values. Check the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates present in one serving of the food product. If you’re debating whether or not to eat something, try estimating how much of each macronutrient you’ve eaten for that day already — a general rule of thumb is that your daily intake should consist of 45 to 65 percent carbohydrates, 10 to 35 percent protein, and 20 to 35 percent fat (with no more than seven percent saturated fat) each day. (These values may vary for athletes.)

Check the amount of vitamins and minerals present. Although you should try to consume 100 percent of your Daily Value (DV) of these nutrients, overdoing it will not give your body any extra benefit, so you don’t always have to buy the extra-fortified container of orange juice.

Limit your sugar intake. Sugars have little, if any, nutritional benefits — they’re empty calories. The USDA recommends that you keep your daily intake of added sugars to 10 teaspoons or under 40 grams a day.

Try to choose products with 10 grams or less of sugar in one serving, with the exception of dairy products. (Sugar counts in milk, yogurt and fruit juices tend to be higher, but only because they contain naturally-occurring sugars.) Also make sure to check the ingredients list for added sugars, which may masquerade under names such as sucrose, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, maple syrup and fructose.

Avoid saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. Choose products with 5 percent DV or less per serving of saturated fat or cholesterol, and do your best to keep your intake of trans fats at one percent or less of your total daily calories, as recommended by the American Heart Association. These fats have been shown to increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Conversely, monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are actually beneficial to health as they lower blood cholesterol, so they should be consumed in moderation.

Consume less sodium and more potassium. The Mayo Clinic advises people not to exceed 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day to reduce the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to health complications such as heart or kidney disease.

Sources: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, US Food and Drug Administration

Photo via nutritiondata.com