Do you read food nutrition labels?
That box of information on the side of your food is an important clue to the nutritional value of what you’re about to buy, cook, or put in your mouth. Polling has found that about 2/3 of Americans pay at least some attention to nutrition labels.
While the current FDA-mandated Nutrition Facts label is far from perfect, it does provide some useful guidance if you know how to read it.
Here are 6 things to understand.
Be wary of the serving size.
The Food and Drug Administration mandates that the serving size be based on “the amount of food that is customarily eaten at one time.” But do you really eat only two cookies or have a 1/12 slice of pie? Another example: a can of soup, which fills an average-sized bowl, is listed as two servings. Be realistic about what you’re likely to eat when calculating portions so that you’re making an accurate assessment of both total calories and nutritional content.
Where’s the fat?
After you’ve looked at the serving size, pay attention not just to the calories per serving but also to the number of calories from fat. While fat gets a bad name, not all fats are created equally. To put it simply:
- trans fats (found in many fried foods as well as a lot of “shelf” foods) are bad
- unsaturated fats (derived primarily from plants sources) are generally good
- saturated fats are somewhere in between
Unsaturated fats can reduce cholesterol. They include monosaturated fats (e.g., olive oil, avocados, some nuts) and polyunsaturated fats (salmon, walnuts, flaxseed, some oils). Saturated fats (e.g., butter, red meat, cheese) are a mixed bag because while they can raise cholesterol levels some of these foods (e.g., coconut oil) have other beneficial health properties.
Check the salt content.
Many processed foods in the U.S. contain added salt. Your total sodium intact shouldn’t exceed 1,500 mg., and yet many soups and pre-packaged foods contain over half that amount in just one meal.
What you need to know about sugar.
The American Health Association recommends that people get no more than 24 grams of sugar per day. Translated: that’s 6 teaspoons of sugar.
Sugar saps your energy levels and makes you hungry. Fructose in added sugars can cause your liver to store fat. Sugar can also prime your body for diabetes, cause your body to churn out bad cholesterol, and more. Check nutrition labels carefully for sugar, because a lot of foods that you might not think of as “sugary” contain a lot of sugar.
Protein and fiber are your friends.
Protein improves fullness, and it feeds our muscles. The more muscle mass we have, the higher our metabolism. Most people should aim for at least half of our weight in protein every day. Fiber, meanwhile, decreases carbohydrate absorption, increases the speed of food as it moves through the intestines, and suppresses insulin secretion. By doing this, it also helps keep our bodies ”regular.” Plus fiber makes us feel fuller longer. Try to aim for about 25 grams of fiber every day.
Where vitamins and minerals fit in.
When it comes to vitamins and mineral, you generally want to aim to get in 100% of the U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) per day. While it’s best to do this from healthy food-based sources, you can always supplement your intake with a multivitamin if you can’t get it in your food.
Do you use nutrition labels? What do you look for first?