The only way you can know for sure what is in your food is read the labels.
This nutritional food label information will show you what the manufactures are adding or subtracting from your food. Familiarizing yourself and understanding what the ingredients and technical terms mean will help you to determine which foods represent the best choices for you.
Almost every food is required the have a food label; the only ones that can avoid labeling requirements are foods that do not provide many nutrients, like spices, coffee and alcohol. Restaurants are not required to label their food, although the FDA recommends that the seller provide information about the foods they serve.
When you begin to examine food labels, the first item you will see is the serving size. This will tell you what volume is a serving, whether it is ten chips or one cup. It is very important to pay attention to this portion size because all of the nutritional information supplied will be provided per serving. Many containers contain more than one serving.
The next section will provide information on how many calories a serving contains and how many of those are derived from fat. This section will not inform you on what type of fats are involved.
Further down you will notice the label is divided into columns. The right side lists percent daily values (%DV). These values are there to tell you how much of something, whether vitamin, sugar, or fat is contained in one serving as compared with what you need for the entire day. Most often this daily amount is figured on a 2,000 calorie diet. You may need to make adjustments if your diet is based on a different amount.
You can use this section as a guide to making good choices. For example, if you are trying to lower you sodium intake you can compare two similar products and choose the one that contains less sodium per serving. The same principle applies if you are on a low-fat diet. Look for foods that contain a lower percent daily value.
The food labels will also contain information about fat, sodium, sugar, protein, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins and other information. Depending on your dietary concerns you will want to pay special attention to one or more of these areas. Everyone should try to average 100% DV of vitamins A and C, iron, fiber and calcium. You should do the opposite for fat, sodium, and cholesterol, trying to keep their levels under 100% DV.
Until you become an expert at understanding this information, it can be somewhat confusing. Here are a few tips on common errors to avoid.
- The %DV for fat is not the same as the calories from fat. A % DV of 15% does not mean that 15% of the calories are from fat; rather it means that based on a 2,000 calorie diet, one serving contains 15% of fat recommended in an entire day.
- Although a product label may state that the product is reduced sodium or reduced fat, this does not mean necessarily that the product is low in either one, it simply means that this product has reduced the levels by at least 25% from the original product. For examples, if a can of soup originally contained 1,000 milligrams of sodium, the reduced sodium version would still be considered a high sodium product.
- The sugar listed on the label is not necessarily sugar that has been added to the food. Many foods have naturally occurring sugar, sometimes called lactose that will be included on the label.
The FDA regulates what phrases and terms can be used in the required food labels in order to maintain consistency. Thanks to these regulations we can sort out exactly what is meant by certain terminology.
- No fat or fat free – contains less that 0.5 grams of fat per serving.
- Lower or reduced fat – contains 25 % less fat that the original product. (For example, reduced fat cream cheese would have 25% less than regular cream cheese.
- Low fat – contains 3 grams or less per serving.
- Lite – contains one third the calories or half the fat of the original product.
- No calories or calorie free – contains less than 5 calories per serving.
- Low calorie – contains one third of the calories or the referenced product.
- Sugar free – contains less than ½ gram of sugar per serving.
- Reduced sugar – has at lease 25% less sugar than the original product.
- No preservatives – contains no natural or chemical preservatives.
- No preservatives added – contains no added chemical preservatives although some natural preservatives may be present.
- Low sodium – contains less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- No salt or salt free – contains less than 5 milligrams of sodium per serving.
- High fiber – contains 5 grams or more per serving.
- Good source of fiber – contains 2.5 gram to 4.9 grams of fiber per serving.
- More fiber or added fiber – contains at least 2.5 grams more fiber than the referenced food.
In no time you will become a nutritional food label information expert once you start using all of your new found knowledge. Take a look at what you eat and consider what needs to be changed. Start replacing foods that don’t measure up with more nutritional substitutes.