Reading Nutrition Labels Correctly

Nutrition labels are supposed to tell us how healthy or unhealthy a food really is. Some of us read them, many don’t. But if you read them, are you reading them correctly? Reading nutrition label can help make wise food choices but knowing how to read the nutrition fact label can be complicated without the right guide. So, let us show step by step how to correctly read the nutrition label:

Reading a Nutrition Label

Step 1- Start with serving size
At the top of the label are the serving size and the number of servings per container.  Serving sizes is the amount of food that is typically eating in one serving indicated by cup or number. Serving sizes differ on each food label and may not equal the serving size you normally eat. If you double a serving size, you must also double all the other values on the nutrition label.

Step 2- Tally up “Calories” and “Calories from Fat”
The calories in a serving and calories derived from fat are displayed directly under the portion sizes. The number of calories you actually take in is determined by the number of servings you eat. For example one serving (10g) of packaged bhelpuri provides 56 calories with 36 calories from fat. And if you eat 5 serving (50 g) of it, then you are actually eating 280 calories with 180 calories from fat.

Step 3- Learn about % Daily Value
Referred to DV, the Percent Daily Value tells how much of a certain nutrient one serving of food contains, to how much of that nutrient you should consume daily (based on 2,000 calorie diet).

Step 4- Finding nutrients which need to be limited in diet:
a)    Adding up “Total Fat”: Displayed next is total fat which includes fats that are good, such as monosaturated, polyunsaturated, and fats that are not so good, such as saturated and trans fats (“hydrogenated” and “partially hydrogenated” fats ).
b)    Finding about “Cholesterol”: Next is how much cholesterol is provided by one serving of food (limit to 200 mg/day).
c)    Looking at “Sodium” content. Sodium, a hidden ingredient in many foods, especially processed food, such as canned soups and tomato sauces.

Step 5- Identifying nutrients needed in moderate amounts
a)    “Total Carbohydrates”: This number represents total of all different types of carbohydrates from eating one serving of food.
b)    “Protein” amount. This number tells you how much protein you obtain from consuming one serving of food.

Step 6-Be vigilant about amount of “Sugar”
This is the amount of sugar you get by consuming one serving of food. Some carbohydrates become sugar when digested in body, so we may be actually consuming more sugar than what is on label.

Step 7- Identifying nutrients needed in maximum amounts
a)”Total fiber”: This number represents grams of dietary fiber in one serving of food. A food is considered high in fiber if it contains 5 grams of fiber or more per serving. Men age 50 and younger should get at least 38 grams of fiber per day, while women age 50 and younger should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
b) Vitamins and Minerals: The nutrition label lists vitamin A, C, calcium and iron. If not present in the food then label mention a footnote ‘Not a significant source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium & Iron’.

Step 8- Don’t forget to look at ‘Footnote’
A chart based on a 2,000-calorie and 2,500-calorie diet. But the question is how many calories do you need? If your body needs 1600 calories or 2800 calories, then clearly you should keep that in mind.

Healthy eating often starts with knowing yourself & about what you are putting in mouth. A key step is to know how to read “Nutrition Facts” on a food label and not relying on phrases like “healthy” or “low-fat”. This can help you make quick, informed choices that contribute to healthy eating through more informed label reading.

You’ve seen terms like ‘low fibre’, ‘high in calcium’, ‘free from cholesterol’ and “contains iron required for red blood cell formation”. Watch out for the next in this series to understand what those terms mean.

— this article is written by a dietitian @ FitHo
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