The best way to see results is eating healthy combined with exercise. Knowing how to read food labels, and hence understanding nutrition content of food, will assist you in making informed decisions about what you eat. All the nutrient amounts listed on the food label are for one serving and labels are based on an average 2,000 calories diet but you might need more or less depending on your height, weight, gender, age and activity level.
Nutrition Facts Explained
Serving size is the first thing listed on a label and is determined by the food manufacturer, based on the amount that people generally eat. If the serving size on a can of beans is ½ cup but you eat the whole can, then you will need to double the nutrient and calorie values to determine what you actually consumed.
Servings per container is the number of servings that can be found in the container. If a box of crackers has a serving size of 4 crackers and the serving per container is 5, then 2 servings are 8 crackers. The box has a total of 20 crackers since there are a total of 5 servings per container with a serving size of 4 crackers.
A calorie, or kilocalorie, indicates how much energy a person gets for a particular food. In general 40 calories per serving is low, 100 is moderate and 400 or more is high. Calories from fat describes how much of the total calories come from fat. When comparing calories and calories from fat, you want the numbers to have a big gap as you want less calories being from fat.
Fat is an essential nutrient that provides energy, energy storage and insulation. Saturated fat is part of the total fat but it is listed separately because it raises cholesterol and hence the risk of heart diseases. Trans fat starts out as liquid unsaturated fat but manufacturers add hydrogen to it to make it saturated fat and increase its shelf life. Also known as partially hydrogenated oil, it damages blood vessels and increases cholesterol and risk of heart disease. Try to get your fat from good fats (known as monounsaturated) such as olive oil, avocado, nuts and salmon, as they protect your heart and support overall health.
Sodium, a component of salt, is necessary for keeping proper body fluid balance and the recommended amount is less than 2400 milligrams (mg) per day. Reduce packaged and restaurant food as they usually have more salt than the daily recommendation.
Carbohydrates provide the energy the body needs to function and it is stored as glycogen in the muscle and liver, and transported in the blood as glucose. Some examples are bread, rice, potatoes, beans, fruits and vegetables. Dietary fibers, also known as roughage, include plant foods that the body can’t digest. Fiber is classified as soluble (dissolves in water) or insoluble (doesn’t dissolve). Sugars are found in most foods and fruits contain simple sugar while snack foods, candy, and sodas contain added sugar, making them empty calories. Opt for food with natural sugar over added ones.
Protein are part of every cell, tissue, and organ in the body and are constantly broken down and replaced by the protein we eat, which is digested as amino acids. It is found in food such as beef, poultry, fish, tofu, eggs, dairy products, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes (beans, peas and lentils). Protein after exercise provides the amino acids necessary to rebuild muscle tissues damaged during intense, prolonged exercise.
Percent daily values, listed in the right-hand column, tell how much of a certain nutrient a person will get from eating one serving of that food. If a serving of a food has 16% iron, then that food is providing 16% of the daily iron need based on 2,000 calories diet. A food with 5% or less of a nutrient is considered low in that nutrient, between 10-19% is considered a good source of the nutrient and 20% or more of the percent daily value, is considered high in that nutrient.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that 45 – 65% of total calories come from carbohydrates, 20 – 35% from fat, and 10 – 35% comes from protein. Minimize the intake of fat, cholesterol and sodium and eat more food that resembles what our grandparents ate. Now that you know what the numbers on a food label mean, you can chose more nutritious food.
About the Author
Aris Akavan, ACE certified Personal Trainer & Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, is owner of Body Fitness by Aris. Her mission is to assist others in leading a healthier lifestyle by balancing exercise and proper eating habits to achieve the ultimate body & mind wellness. Aris leads by example as she practices what she preaches. She leads an alcohol free and smoke free lifestyle and has worked out while following proper nutrition practices for over 10 years. In the last few years she also started participating in 5k races, adventure runs and triathlons. You can visit Aris at any of her following: