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How To Read and Understand Nutrition Labels - Demystifying the Numbers

Updated on November 18, 2014
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Reading is awesome, except when it means reading nutrition labels. I don't derive as much fun reading those as I do when I read my favorite novel, but alas! it is a necessary evil.

However, you'll be glad to know that reading nutrition labels doesn't have to be painful. If you learn to find what you're looking for, all those numbers will stop being gibberish and become actual, useful information.

Serving size is everything


The first thing that you want to look at is the Serving Size. Why? Because the serving determines all the other numbers. For example, let’s say the serving size of your favorite chips is 10 chips. You go down the nutrition label and calories are 150. This means that for every 10 chips you eat you will be ingesting 150 calories. If you eat 20 chips, you just gobbled down 300 calories. Oh no!

I used to think that the calorie amount was for the whole bag. How dissapointing it was to find out that I was supposed to be paying attention to the serving size.
Some nutrition labels will tell you how many servings there are in the whole bag. Let’s look at another example using Frito’s Original Corn Chips (big 11 oz. bag):

Serving size: 1 oz. (about 32 chips)
Servings per container: About 11
Calories (per serving): 160

If you eat the whole bag you would be eating 1,760 calories! That’s almost a whole day worth of calories! Even if you go for the smaller, 3 oz bag, you would still be eating 480 calories.

Are nutrition labels important?

Do you think reading nutrition is important for our health?

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Calories from Fat vs. Total Calories

This is another thing that we should really look at when we read food labels. Calories from fat are EMPTY calories. These calories will do nothing for you other than add construction material to your love handles. Fat has no protein, fiber, minerals or vitamins. Ideally, calories from fat shouldn’t be more than 1/3 or 33% of the total calories.

Let’s look at one of my favorite Tortilla chips:

Calories: 140
Calories from fat: 60

This means that 43% of these Tortilla chips’ calories come from fat. That’s almost half of the calories! So these chips aren’t doing much for my figure...Go figure...

Teach your friends how to read nutrition labels so that they, too, can benefit.
Teach your friends how to read nutrition labels so that they, too, can benefit. | Source

How to Calculate Percentage of Calories from Fat

Multiply the calories from fat by 100
Divide the resulting number by the total calories.

Example:

Calories: 140
Calories from fat: 60

60 x 100 = 6000
6000/140= 42.85

Voila!

Total fat vs. Saturated fat

The first number that you will usually see in the every nutrition label is Total fat, and right under it you will find Saturated Fat.

Saturated and trans fat is your enemy. These types of fat are one of the main reasons for high cholesterol levels and they’re evil in every single way. They not only increase your LDL (Bad cholesterol), but they also decrease your HDL (Good cholesterol).

When reading your nutrition labels, make sure that the saturated or trans fat are as low as possible. If the saturated fat is nearing the number of total fat, skip the treat and go for something healthier.

Carbohydrates

Sugar, starch and dietary fiber make up the total carbohydrates in the nutrition label. It’s always good to look at the total carbohydrates, and it is even better to check how much of those carbohydrates come from sugar. Why?

Even though dietary fiber and sugar are both under the same category of Carbohydrates, one is good and one is bad. Sugar is the bad one. (Okay, I know we need sugar to live, but too much sugar is bad for you. For the purposes of this hub, we will say that sugar is bad, okay? thanks!) If you only look at the total Carbohydrates you won’t know how much good and how much bad there is in what you are eating. So make sure you do the math.

Aside from just the nutrition labels, there are many symbols that help us decipher what we are eating.
Aside from just the nutrition labels, there are many symbols that help us decipher what we are eating. | Source

Don't be tricked...

Just because Saturated Fat is not included in the nutrition label doesn't mean it doesn't have any. If the food has less than 0.5 grams of saturated fat per serving, the maker of said food does not have to include it in the label. If you think it has saturated fat, go with your gut and limit the amount you eat.

Carbohydrates: Sugar

Ever since we were little we have been advised of the dangers of eating too much sugar, and now that we are adults we need to be especially careful because of diseases such as diabetes.

Look at the Sugars amount and compare it to the Total Carbohydrate amount. Unless the food you are about to eat has natural sugars, you can assume all sugars were added. Stay away from those added sugars.
Compare the amount of sugars to the total Carbohydrate amount. If the numbers are close, look for something else to eat.

Example:
A 12 oz. bottle of Dr. Pepper:

Total Carb: 40 g
Sugars: 40 g

All the carbs in this drink come from sugar!! AAAAAH! Run away!!!

Carbohydrates: Dietary fiber

Fiber is really important to keep your food moving and not getting stuck. It helps prevents the tears that come with constipation, as well as the pain and bloating associated with it. You should be getting at least 25 g. of fiber daily. Make sure that the nutrition label says that it has at least 1 g of fiber. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber
Soluble fiber is awesome and should become one of your best friends. This type of fiber absorbs water, sugar, cholesterol and triglecyrides. It’s like a sponge that goes in your instestines, absorbs everything bad and allows itself to be pooped out. So when you eat soluble fiber, your body won’t absorb all those bad guys that cause cardiovascular disease, hemorrhoids, diabetes or constipation.
Fun fact: Thirty three percent of Cheerios’ dietary fiber is soluble fiber.

Insoluble fiber
Most nutrition labels do not include the amount of insoluble fiber, so I’m left to believe that what is not soluble fiber has to be insoluble fiber. Either way, insoluble fiber is also your friend because it helps keep everything moving smoothly in your intestinal tract.

Daily Values

These values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Keep in mind that the Daily Values change from person to person, so the percentages there are more or less irrelevant. It all depends on you and how much of each nutrient you should be getting.

Always make sure you know what you're putting in your body. Good in, good out. If we eat good stuff, our body will reward us with vitality and energy.

Happy living!

Comments

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    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      4 years ago

      Hi Inspired Heart:

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      4 years ago

      Hi ChitrangadaSharan:

      I'm glad you're spreading the word about reading nutrition labels. I have a feeling that if more people knew what they were eating, there would be a little bit less obesity in the world. Thank you for reading, commenting, voting and sharing! :)

    • Silver Q profile imageAUTHOR

      Silver Q 

      4 years ago

      Hi thewritingowl:

      I'm glad this article useful. I've been trying to eat healthy, too, and nutrition labels are super important to know what we are eating. Thank you for reading and commenting!

    • Inspired Heart profile image

      Yvette Stupart 

      4 years ago from Jamaica

      Great information Silver Q. Learning the difference between the types of fats and carbohydrates on nutrition labels is very important.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 

      4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Useful hub with loads of information!

      I am very particular about Nutrition labels, while shopping. Thanks for spreading the awareness. Voted up and shared on HP!

    • thewritingowl profile image

      Mary Kelly Godley 

      4 years ago from Ireland

      Great article, I am trying to eat very healthily at the moment so this advice is exactly what I needed to hear. Voted up.

    • Alphadogg16 profile image

      Kevin W 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Well written, informative & explanatory hub Silver Q. Simply reading the labels of the food we eat can be very beneficial in so e people's weight loss quest. Thumbs up on your hub.

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