Figuring out how to read, understand and act upon food nutrition labels can truly make or break your dieting efforts; whether you want to lose weight, gain muscles, lose weight and gain muscles, or simply adapt healthier eating habits.
Not realizing what you’re getting from foods you eat is one of the reasons for not seeing significant results out of your diet plan.
Understanding food labels can be confusing, but with the minimum information required, added to that some practice; it will get easier with time. Here, we’ll introduce you to what you need to look for when deciding on any food product with a label on it.
What to look for on nutrition labels ?
1- Serving size / servings per container
The first thing you should look at is the serving size, and number of servings per container; since they correlate to amount of nutrients you get when eating that food product (all nutrition facts mentioned are per one serving).
For example; if a package has 2 servings in it, and you ate the whole package, that means you got double amount of the all nutrients on the food label (i.e. you should multiply all the calories, grams and percentages by 2; that’s what you ate).
2- Total calories / calories from fat
Watching calories you eat is paramount if you have any sort of fitness goal; so look at number of calories in the food products, see if they fit with your daily caloric needs, and don’t forget to correlate it with the number of servings you consumed from that product.
As a quick guide to calories on food labels, the FDA suggests that: 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories or more is high, but of course that could vary with your own needs.
3- % Daily value
The %DV tells you the percentage of nutrients in each serving of that food in terms of the recommended amounts for general adults consuming 2000 calories a day. For example; if calcium recommended intake per day is 1000 mg (100%), and one serving of the food you’re eating has 15% DV of calcium, you would get 15% of your daily calcium recommendations when consuming it.
Since %DV is based on 2000 kcal, you would need more or less based on your own needs, but they do come in handy for estimations. As a quick guide to %DV; the AHA recommends that you choose foods with 5%DV or less of the nutrients you’re trying to limit, and chose foods with 20%DV or more of the nutrients you’re trying to consume more of, anything within 5-20% is considered moderate.
- Nutrients to limit: You’re recommended to limit the intake of these first mentioned nutrients; most people already get enough or too much of them, and exceeded consumption of these is related to higher chances of diseases such as CVD and hypertension.
- Nutrients to get enough from: These are food that you better try to take more of, since their deficiencies are prevalent among people. And as explained earlier in the quick guide to %DV; look for foods that contain 20% or more of these nutrients.
- Nutrients without %DV: Sugars and Tran’s fats don’t have %DV, since the FDA couldn’t establish DV due to lack of sufficient evidence to support that, but since they are related to overweight, obesity and heart diseases, you better limit their intake as possible. Protein also doesn’t have %DV since it differs with people’s daily needs.
As a rule of thumb, when it comes to ingredients you need to pay attention to three things:
- Number of ingredients: The less they are the better; avoid food products with more than 7-10 ingredients.
- The first 3 or so ingredients: If sugar or hydrogenated fat are on the first few ingredient, put it back on the shelf; this has no place on your healthy foods list.
- Nicknames: Not seeing the word sugar doesn’t mean the food is sugar-free, since sugar has other names such as; corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, fruit juice, maltose, sucrose, dextrose and high fructose corn syrup.
If you have any question or need help with nutrition fats labels, put your them on fitnessyard’s forum to get the help you need.
References and resources:
- How to understand and use the nutrition facts label : http://www.fda.gov/
- Understanding food labels : http://www.heart.org