You're wanting to eat healthier, but aren't quite sure what is considered "healthy" or where to begin, right? The best place to start? The grocery store. I mean, that is where the food is. The best part about it? The food tells you everything you need to know about it before you even purchase it.
While you're in the grocery store you may notice that most of the products you consume have a Nutrition Facts label. With the exception of raw fruits, vegetables, and fish pretty much everything is required to have nutritional labeling.
When learning to eat better it is important to understand nutritional labels. They give you the best summary of what you're about to eat. It tells you caloric information, as well as the nutritional content including: Fat (saturated, unsaturated, and trans), cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar, protein, iron, calcium, and Vitamins A and C. Nutrition Facts come in handy when you're following a specific dietary plan, such as veganism, low carb, high carb, or whatever it may be. If you're working to lose weight you will need to learn to read and understand the Nutrition Facts on food labels. No worries, I've got you covered.
Let's go over what you should be looking for.
This is the first place to look when picking out groceries while grocery shopping. Servings are measured in cups, grams, and pieces. The size of the serving influences the amount of calories and the nutrients you would intake if you were to eat the food.
Let's review the snack in the above picture. These bite size snacks contain two servings. This means one serving is half of the bag. Half. HALF. If you're snacking on them and not paying attention you could wind up eating a pack or two. I'm aware that this happens because this is one of my favorite movie snacks. This is a snack that should be eaten in more than one sitting. Since it’s a snack, one serving would be enough for the day. Actually, this would be more than enough. Keep your snacks at 100 calories or less and low in added sugar. Don’t worry, we're gonna go over how to figure it out. For now, consider looking up some of your favorite snacks to see the actual serving size and compare it to what you generally consume. Let's be honest, who measures out their cereal before they pour it into a bowl? If you do you, my friend are disciplined!
Let's move on to the portion of the label that lists the amount of calories per serving. Calories in food provide us with the energy we need to function. If you'll recall in, Eating 101, calories are either burned or stored for use later. This means that if you are not reading your foods' labels you may be consuming more calories than you need or burn. Therefore, you're storing energy that eventually turns to fat.
Looking back at the Snickers package, there are 190 calories per serving. Eating the entire package you would have consumed 380 calories. That can be considered equivalent to a full meal.
Where it mentions calories from fat, that simply means the amount of calories that come from fat. Fat provides twice as many calories than proteins and carbs so labels have to list this. There are 80 calories from fat per serving (160 in the entire bag) in the Snickers bites.
% Daily Value (%DV)
Percent daily values are based on either a 2000 or 2500 calorie diet. It indicates how much one serving provides towards daily nutritional needs. Less than 5% is considered low. Over 15% is considered high. These are neither good nor bad numbers. If you want to consume more of a specific nutrient, choose foods that have a higher %DV for that nutrient. If you're wanting to cut carbs, choose foods with a low %DV.
Lesson for those opting for soups when trying to eat healthier. This can of Chicken Noodle Soup is low in fat. It only gives you 2%, per serving, of the fat you would need to consume in one day if you were eating a 2000 calorie diet. That means this soup is good for you, right? Not, quite. Look at the circled number.
This soup is high in sodium. 37% of your daily needs would come from ONE serving of this soup. If you eat the entire can, you've consumed more than the recommended amount of sodium. Then, you're retaining water.
Be careful not to just grab food because it states on the front of the packaging that its an excellent source of a nutrient. Check the Nutritional Facts to make sure it is low in sodium, cholesterol, saturated fats, and trans fats. Choose foods that are high in fiber, vitamins A & C, iron, and calcium.
Ingredients List and Allergens
Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those listed first are in the largest amounts. This information is helpful to individuals with food sensitivities, those wishing to avoid pork or shellfish, limit added sugars, or people who prefer a vegan diet.
Law requires foods to state if they contain the top food allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, fish, shellfish). It's usually in bold font and under the ingredients.
The Footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label must indicate that the %DV is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This statement is required on all food labels. The remaining information on a full footnote may not be on packaging if the size of the label is too small. A full footnote will always be the same. It doesn't change from product to product. This is the recommended dietary advice for all Americans. Not about a specific food product.
Note: Trans fat, sugars, and proteins do not list A %DV on the Nutrition Facts Label.
A %DV is only required if the product claims to be "high in protein". Otherwise, none is needed it, unless the food is for infants and children under 4. Protein intake is not a public health concern for those over the age of 4.
There is no recommended daily value for sugar, therefore none is listed on labels. Be mindful that sugars listed on the Nutrition Facts label includes naturally occurring sugars (like those found in milk and fruit) as well as added sugars. Check the ingredient list for added sugars. Other names or added sugars include: corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup.
Trans fat, as well as saturated fat, is linked with raising blood LDL cholesterol levels. This is considered the "bad" cholesterol which is responsible for increasing your risk of coronary heart disease.
Look for foods low in saturated and trans fats, as well as cholesterol, to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Most of the fats that should be consumed should be polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. This includes: fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
The %DV can be used to help you make dietary trade-offs with other foods throughout the day. You don’t always have to give up your favorite food to eat a healthy diet. Remember balance. If you've been following along for a while now you will know that balance is one of my favorite words, lol. When you have a food that’s high in fat or sugar, balance it with other foods that are low in fat or sugar when you eat at other times during the day. Also, pay attention to the percentages you eat throughout the day. The total should stay at or below 100%DV.
To limit nutrients that have no %DV, like trans fat and sugars, compare labels of similar products (with similar serving sizes) and choose the food with the lowest amount.
If you're considering eating healthier or have begun eating healthier the Nutrition Facts label can assist you by providing key information. It can help you with cutting back and adding beneficial nutrients to your diet. Use it as an additional tool for healthy weight loss!