Deciphering Nutrition Labels: What Do You Need to Know?
All of the information on food packaging can be confusing, but learning to decipher food labels can help you make better nutritional choices for your family. Here is a rundown of how to read the nutrition labels on all of your food items.
About Nutrition Labels
In 1990, the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) became law, requiring all packaged food products to have labels with nutrition information. This act also set guidelines for which foods are labeled as low-fat and reduced-fat.
Serving Size and Daily Value
This is probably the most important information located on a nutrition label. The serving size gives you the specific amount of food that will correlate with the nutrients – and their perspective percentages – listed. If you eat more or less than the suggested serving size, you will consume more or less of the nutrients listed on the label.
The daily value rating tells you where the nutrients in your food will fall into your nutritional needs. For example, a food with 10 grams of fat contains 15% of your daily-recommended value of fat.
Fat, Calories, Carbs, Protein, and More
The first part of the nutrition label includes information on some of the most important aspects of your daily nutrition, including both the total calories and the calories from fat contained in the food. A food that claims to be calorie-free does not actually need to have zero calories; it can claim to be calorie-free if the serving has less than five calories!
Fat is the next category. This includes total fat, saturated fat, and unsaturated fat. As an adult, you should not consume more than 30% of your daily calories from fat. Children ages 3 and younger should consume 30 to 40% of their daily calories from fat.
Sodium and cholesterol are both nutrients your body needs to function, but can be dangerous in high levels. They are measured in milligrams (mg). Sodium levels should be less than 2,400 mg, and cholesterol levels should be less than 300 mg.
The total carbohydrate number combines all of the carbohydrates from the sugar and fiber in your food. In a healthy diet, carbs should make up a large percentage of your caloric intake. Children should consume at least 60% of their calories from carbs. Great, healthy sources of carbs are fruits and vegetables. Grains are also important sources of carbs.
Most of the foods we eat have some amount of sugar. Like carbs, simple sugars are good for your body and can be found in fruits. Refined sugar is what can damage your body. These are found in candy, snacks, and other high-sugar treats.
Fiber is vital to a healthy diet. A healthy person should consume at least 25 grams of fiber per day.
Protein helps fuel your body and muscles. Your child should consume 10 to 20% of their caloric intake from protein. Meats, cheese, eggs, and beans are all great sources of protein.
Vitamins and Minerals
The bottom part of the food label contains the percentage values of the important minerals your body needs (these include calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C). Other nutrients may be listed as well, such as thiamin, riboflavin and niacin. You should strive to feed your family foods that have more than 20% of the daily values of these minerals.
The ingredient list contains all of the ingredients included in your food. They are listed in descending order, with the most abundant ingredient listed first. If you have a question about an ingredient, do the research before you feed it to your child.
Keeping track of the nutrients your family consumes can lead to a happier and healthier lifestyle. Good luck!