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How to Read A Food Nutrition Facts Label
Have you ever read a Nutrition Facts food label? Honestly, until my daughter was diagnosed with food allergies nine years ago I had not ever bothered to look at the labels. I have learned a lot since then and hopefully this hub will help you figure out exactly what you are eating too.
Nutrition Facts labels have been required on all packaged foods for a long time now. I see two benefits to having these labels in place. First it helps the consumer know exactly what ingredients they are eating and what nutrients (or harmful things) they are putting in their bodies. Secondly I would like to think that having to list everything out makes the companies a little more aware of what they are putting in foods. Do they really want to list on the Nutrition Facts label that their product has 21g of sugar in each serving?
Let's take a look at the Nutrition Facts label in the photo. This is from a box of Wisconsin Colby Wheat Thins from my pantry. I love these things. First you will notice at the top it says Nutrition Facts. Right below that is what I consider some of the most important information on the label - the serving size. Here in the United States we have a real problem with portion control. Many times we blindly eat the entire can of soup or drink the whole can of soda. If and when we look at the label and see that it is just 200 calories we think that is great for a lunch. Except that is 200 calories per serving, and there are two servings in the can, which means you just consumed 400 calories. As you can see in the photo a serving size for these crackers is 11 pieces. I am pretty sure that when I sit down to have a snack I eat more than 11 of these.
Below that it talks about calories and calories from fat. This is the total calories for each serving. Everything on the Nutrition Facts label is information per serving. Next is the Total Fat. One thing to consider when reading this part of the label is that some fats are very good for us. If I am eating butter on my muffins then the fat in butter is a healthy fat. If I am eating a candy bar, the fat is not at all good for me. The label should break the fat into Saturated Fat, Trans Fat (you want this to always be 0, this fat is very bad for you), Polyunsaturated Fat and Monounsaturated Fat. For more information on the differences between these fats look here.
Next is cholesterol, sodium, potassium, total carbohydrates and protein. These items could vary depending on the food. This information is very good if you have dietary concerns. If you have high cholesterol, then pay attention to that number and the sodium content. If you want to avoid carbs then you want the protein content to be higher than the carbohydrate content. Under this area you will find how much dietary fiber is in the food. The higher this is the better.
Finally at the bottom of the Nutrition Facts label it goes over the percentages of the nutrients in the food. I always pay attention to this area. These percentages are based on a 2000 calorie diet (as were the percentages in the information above). For many women though, we don't normally eat that many calories in a day, so the percentages will vary some for each person. This just gives you a general idea.
The Wheat Thins label only lists Vitamin A and C, Calcium and Iron. Other products will list other nutrients. For instance on my jar of sunflower seeds they also list Vitamin E and B6, Zinc, Copper and Phosphorus. Reading the nutrient percentages on the foods you eat will help you make better choices. Do you need more iron in your diet? Find foods that have a high percentage of iron. Do you need more potassium? Then look for that.
The Nutrition Facts label is there to help you. Start reading the labels of the foods you eat so you can learn more about what you put in your body. You might be pleasantly surprised to see how well you eat. You might realize that you consume a lot of sodium in your diet each day and decide to cut back. There certainly isn't any harm in becoming better educated on the food products, nutrients and exactly what you are eating. I actually find it very interesting now and hope that you will too.