Within the realm of nutrition and health, there are so many products that claim to be “healthy”. How can you really tell whether or not a product is actually good for you? The answer lies on the box of the product in the format of what is known as the nutrition label. Every item that is sold for consumer consumption is required by law to highlight the nutrient breakdown. In other words, the nutrition label breaks down in detail the amounts of macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat) and micronutrients (vitamins, minerals) within the product. The best way to take charge of your health is to familiarize yourself with reading and understanding the nutrition label. With that being said, today I’ll be breaking down the information you need to be aware of and what exactly each area means.
Old Vs. New
The first thing to be mindful of is the differences between the older nutrition label compared to the updated label. As of May 2016, the FDA made some important changes to the way the nutrition label is set up. The image on the left-hand side is the previous version, whereas the image on the right is the most current and up-to-date. The newest update was intended to make reading the nutrition label much easier for the everyday person to interpret and understand. While I will say it is much easier to understand, there are still a few areas that I would like to clarify.
Calories & Serving Size
If we dissect the nutrition label this is the top half that we see. This area has been updated to very clearly show the number of calories as well as the number of servings per container. However, what you may not have noticed is that it also includes the portion recommended per serving. The amount recommended per serving is one of the most helpful areas because if you have ever found yourself wondering how much of a specific item you should have, this area will clear it up for you. On this particular label the recommended serving size is 2/3 cup and from that serving size, there are 230 calories. Something to keep in mind is if you eat more than the recommended amount, the number of calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients changes along with it. To stay on top of your health and wellness goals, stick to the portion recommended to avoid over-indulging.
Macronutrients (Carbs, Fat, Protein)
The middle portion of the nutrition label contains some very important information as it outlines the number of carbs, protein, and fat per serving. One of the biggest changes made to this area is the inclusion of the % daily value first and the addition of added sugars. The addition of added sugars to the label is huge because it also includes any artificial sweeteners which were not previously included. Artificial sweeteners are a hot topic within the field of nutrition and we will get into more details about that in a future post. For now, all you need to be aware of is that the nutrition label now accounts for the artificial sweeteners.
Some important details to familiarize yourself with is the saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, and dietary fiber content. As I mentioned in my post on The Facts on Fat both saturated and trans fats are dangerous for our heart health. When reading a nutrition label, both saturated and trans fats should be as low as possible to prevent the onset of any chronic diseases. Preferably there should be no trans fats at all as these are man-made. Just remember, moderation is everything when it comes to a healthy lifestyle. Another area to be mindful of is the sodium content. Too much sodium can also affect heart health, so by paying attention to the % daily value of sodium, you can help to prevent your body from swelling and as a result raising your blood pressure.
The most important area, in my opinion, on the nutrition label, is the amount of dietary fiber per serving. Fiber is essential to maintaining a healthy weight overall as it helps to fill up your stomach and keep your colon clean. Fiber can be found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and beans. The more fiber an item contains per serving, the more beneficial it is for your overall health.
Micronutrients (Vitamins & Minerals)
So now that we have worked our way down to the bottom, let’s talk about the changes made to the micronutrients section. In the previous version of the nutrition label, the number of vitamins and minerals were there and then a random percentage was to the right of that. The percentage there was always the % daily value but it was not labeled clearly. Unless you had knowledge of basic nutrition there was no way to know that the percentage next to the number of micronutrients was the % daily value, until now. The latest update has made it so much easier to determine whether or not you are getting in the amounts of vitamins and minerals that are recommended as the column has been included and labeled as the % daily value. The greater the % daily value, the more confident you can be that you are consuming the recommended amounts of vitamins and minerals. Vitamins and minerals are extremely important and should be eaten as often as possible to prevent chronic diseases.
Now that we’ve completely reviewed the nutrition label, you can feel confident going into the store and making a healthy decision. Understanding the nutrition label and how to read will help you tremendously to feed your body the best that you can. I know it can seem overwhelming just looking at it straight-away, but I promise it is much easier once you know what you are looking at. If you would like a printable handout to keep with you on your trip to the grocery store, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be more than happy to send you a copy.
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