Are you struggling to understand all those difficult terms on nutrition labels? Do not fear because you are not alone. Saturated fats, trans fats, partially hydrogenated oils, carboxymethylcellulose, sodium hexametaphosphate, maltodextrin … it’s too much to take in. We want to help you understand the foods you are eating so that you can know if you are eating healthy or not.
People look at Nutrition Facts labels for different reasons. Whatever the reason, it is always a good idea to know what you are putting into your body. Before moving on to the ingredients, take the time to read the nutrition label. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about nutrition labels.
Portion size: Start by looking at the serving size, which is the exact measure of all calories, fat, sugar, or sodium. If the serving size is a cup, for example, all amounts apply to that measurement. The 150 calories in that one-cup serving doubles if you eat 2 servings. Most likely, a package, bag, or bottle of something is not a serving size.
Calories: The next thing people see, and often the most prominent, is calories. The number of calories translates to the amount of energy you will get from a serving of that food. Many Americans consume too many calories as a result of distorting a serving. The calorie section of each nutrition label can help people count calories if they are trying to lose weight. In the average American diet, the standard daily calorie intake is 1,800 to 2,200 calories for adult women and 2,000 to 2,500 calories for adult men. These are average estimates that vary based on physical activity and health conditions. Remind: If you are trying to lose weight, it is best to eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories per day.
Sodium: The average American eats too much salt. Your maximum daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon). If you are over 40 or have hypertension, it is recommended to consume 1,500 mg of sodium per day or less. It’s best to avoid as much salt as possible, as consuming too much salt can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, hypertension, or atherosclerosis. If you add salt to your food, there are natural salts that are better for you than regular table salt.
Fats: There are good fats and bad fats. Unsaturated fats are acceptable to consume, of course, in adequate amounts. You want to put something back on the shelf if it contains saturated or trans fat. These two can cause an increase in LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and a decrease in HDL (good) cholesterol levels. When looking for fats on a nutrition label, be sure to check the ingredient list as well. Due to a labeling gap, companies can put 0.5 g of trans fat per serving, even if the product says it does not contain fat. How to check: Check the ingredients for hydrogenated oils. If there are some, the product contains some trans fats.
Sugars: Sugars have many names, so check the ingredient list for names like galactose, dextrose, fructose, or glucose. There are also added sugars or sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup, which should be avoided. Natural sweeteners like stevia or organic agave are the best. Sugars may be in unlikely foods to add flavor. They can be found in unhealthy cereals or salad dressings. So watch out for hidden sugars.
Carbohydrates: Sugars, fiber, and refined carbohydrates (avoid them) fall under the carbohydrate umbrella. Carbohydrates are a great source of energy if you choose the right ones to eat. Complex carbohydrates, which are often found in whole grains or fruits and vegetables, are much better for you than refined carbohydrates. Incorporating fibrous fruits and vegetables into your diet can help improve digestion, increase energy levels, and eat less because you feel fuller.
Vitamins and minerals: Most Americans don’t get enough vitamins A and C. Watch for these and make sure you get your daily dose. You can also eat fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure, if not exceed, your daily requirement for most of the vitamins and minerals that are necessary for proper health. Potassium, magnesium, calcium, and iron are excellent minerals, some of which are predominantly found in avocados, dark green leafy vegetables, raw nuts and seeds, or bananas, among many other foods. You can also take herbal supplements to get the vitamins and minerals you need.
Ingredients: The ingredients are on the label for a reason, and they’re small for a reason, too! Many people overlook ingredients, some of which can be harmful to your health. The food’s most prominent ingredients are listed first. If the ingredient is too difficult to pronounce, we recommend staying away from it. Look for short ingredient lists that have easy-to-understand ingredients.
This is a lot to take in, but hopefully it helped you understand nutrition labels a little better. If you have any questions about what is best to consume / avoid for your health, please feel free to email us or give us a call. We are here to help.