Whether you are trying to stay heart-healthy or drop a few pounds, it’s important to know what you’re putting into your body. Understanding how to read a nutrition label is a good place to start, but it can be a little confusing. Check out our handy guide and boost your nutrition IQ.
A. Serving size
Find out how many servings the package includes. Don’t be fooled: a container often holds multiple servings. Pay attention if you are eating more than a single serving at a time.
Calories measure how much energy food provides. On a nutrition label, the calories are listed per serving (calories from fat are also noted). For instance, if a bag of chips has two servings and you finish it off, you’re consuming double the calories listed. This section in particular can be helpful if you’re actively trying to lose or gain weight.
C. Nutrients (to limit)
Try to restrict the amount of nutrients that appear in this section. Too much fat, cholesterol and sodium may increase your risk of chronic diseases. Limit sodium to 1,500 mg a day, if following a 2,000 calorie diet.
Watch out for sneaky trans fat. A label may list “0 g” trans fat if the food contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. Check the ingredient list for “partially hydrogenated oil,” which is code for trans fat.
D. Nutrients (to maximize)
If you’re like most Americans, you’re probably not getting enough dietary fiber and other essential vitamins and minerals. Look for foods that are high in dietary fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. Not only is fiber good for keeping you regular, it may also help reduce the risk of heart disease. Calcium keeps bones strong and helps prevent osteoporosis. Protein helps build strong muscles.
E. % Daily Value
The “% Daily Value” (DV) indicates how much of the daily recommended amount of each nutrient is found in a serving. For instance, one serving of this food contains 7% of your daily sodium. If you want to scale back on something, like sodium, pick foods with a DV of 5% or less. If you want to fill up on a nutrient, like fiber, choose foods with a DV of at least 20%.
Remember that the nutrition label is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. You may need to adjust your intake due to factors like age, gender and activity level. If you have questions, ask your health care provider.