7 Easy Steps in Reading Nutrition Label
Nowadays more and more are becoming more conscious about their health. Many people reassess their food habits and try out various diets to find what works for them. They are more focused on counting calories, reading nutrition labels, and minding balanced portions of food.
Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, more people try to live an overall healthier life to strengthen their health. The time spent in the comforts of their home is enough motivation for them to pay closer attention to what they eat. Unfortunately, the quarantine guidelines also posed some limitations on the type of food people can and cannot store. People cannot go out on their usual market stroll to pick out fresh produce every day. As a result, people tend to store more convenient foods, usually coming in packets or cans.
There is an association regarding packed and canned foods being unhealthy. While most of it is true, you can still incorporate them as food choices when trying to lose weight. It is all about knowing how much nutrients you can get from them and how much you need to consume in a day. To help you do so, it is vital to develop the skill of reading nutrition labels.
With that said, reading nutrition labels is not as simple as you think. To maximize their nutrient benefits, you should not take them at face value. There are some considerations you need to think about before purchasing and consuming these food items. Here are seven helpful tips and steps on reading nutrition labels.
Step 1: Always start with the Serving Size
The first things to notice when reading nutrition labels is the serving size and the number of servings per package. Serving sizes are written in standardized measurements, making it easier for you to compare similar products. They usually state it in units such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, typically saying the number of grams per measurement.
Serving size is the amount of food that people usually eat. With that said, do not refer to it as a recommendation of how much of the product you consume. Take note that all the nutrient amount and the number of calories shown on the label are according to serving size. That is why it is also essential to look for how many servings there are in the food package.
Let us say that you ate one serving of your favourite canned fruits. One serving of the fruit equals 1 cup. If you ate two cups of fruits, then you consumed two servings. By doing so, you are getting double the nutrient and calorie amount initially shown on the label. If you track how many calories you have consumed in a meal, you need to multiply the amount stated on the label depending on how many servings you have eaten. If you only ate half of one serving, then you are cutting your nutrient and calorie intake in half as well.
Step 2: Check the total amount of calories
When it comes to healthier eating habits, fewer calories is key for those trying to lose weight. Calories refer to the energy people get from the food or drink they consume, which the body uses in physical activity. Whether you are trying to lose weight or want to start eating healthy, you still need to consume ample amounts of calories to get through the day. However, the rule of thumb is only to consume the calories your body needs.
As implied earlier, checking calories when reading nutrition labels is a good habit. For example, a serving of canned soup contains 280 calories. Every can of soup covers four servings. If you ate the whole content of the can, you already consumed 1,120 calories.
When purchasing, choose products that are nutrient-rich but low in calories. Now that you know how to read nutrition labels, it is easier to track your daily calorie intake. Generally, 2,000 calories a day is recommended. For calories per serving, 40 calories are considered low, 100 calories are moderate, while 400 calories or more is high. With that said, daily calorie needs for every person may be higher or lower depending on their age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.
Take note that the number of servings you consume determines the calories you intake. Eating too many calorie-rich foods daily may lead to being overweight or obese.
Step 3: Check the nutrients you should limit
A healthy diet should focus on nutrients that nourish the body. In turn, there are certain nutrients that you need to limit and stay away from. Specifically, foods high in fat, sodium, and sugar may have adverse effects on your health when consumed heavily.
Fat (saturated fat and trans fat), sodium, and added sugars are considered as “nutrients to get less of” due to their harmful effects on the body. Consuming too much fat and sodium leads to an increased risk of developing various chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Moreover, added sugars make it challenging to meet necessary nutrient needs without exceeding the daily calorie limit. Large amounts of sugar are also associated with excessive weight gain and obesity, increasing the risk of other health problems.
It emphasizes the importance of knowing how to read nutrition labels. However, when reading nutrition labels, people can get easily confused with terms like “total sugars” and “added sugar” and the difference between saturated fat and trans fat.
As the name suggests, total sugars include the natural sugars in several nutritious foods and beverages (such as sugar naturally found in milk and fruits) plus the added sugars found in the product. There has been no recommendation regarding the total amount of sugars a person should consume in a day. Instead, watch out for the added sugars in food products.
On the other hand, added sugars on labels refer to the additional sugar content during food processing, such as sucrose and dextrose. Foods packaged as sweeteners (such as table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugars from concentrated fruit or vegetable juices are also included under this label. Take note that when the word “includes” is added before “Added Sugars” on the label, it indicates that the added sugars are included in the number of grams of Total Sugars in the product.
Saturated fat and trans fat are the same when it comes to their effects on the body. Most saturated fats are animal fats. Thus, it is usually found in high-fat meats and dairy products. Saturated fat should be consumed sparingly. On the flip side, trans fat should be avoided as much as possible, as it is the worst fat for the body. It appears in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Similarly, both saturated and trans fat are associated with increased LDL or bad cholesterol levels while suppressing HDL or good cholesterol in the body.
Step 4: Check the nutrients you should get more of
If there are nutrients you need to limit, there are specific nutrients you need to amp up to maximize the health benefits of your foods. Nutrients like dietary fibre, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium are considered “nutrients to get more of”.
People do not usually consume enough of these nutrients despite their health benefits. A diet consisting of foods high in dietary fibre increases the frequency of bowel movements, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and reduces calorie intake. Eating foods rich in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium also reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis, anaemia, and high blood pressure.
Another benefit of reading nutrition labels is that you can target specific nutrients you want in your diet. Let us say you want to increase the amount of fiber and lessen sodium in your diet. You can do so by reading the amount of each nutrient in the products you purchase.
Step 5: Consider the Additional Nutrients
To make the most out of your diet, consider additional nutrients present in your food and think about how they can help or deter your goal. When reading nutrition labels, pay attention to the Additional Nutrients portion in the label. Protein, carbohydrates, and sugars are commonly seen in this portion of the nutrition label.
Protein is commonly seen in meats, poultry, dairy products, beans, and seeds. There is no required daily amount recommendation for protein, though it should be consumed in moderate portions.
Carbohydrates are categorized into three types: sugars, starches and fibre. The term “Total Carbohydrates” includes all types of carbohydrates in the food. Make sure most of the carbs you consume do not come from added sugars. As mentioned earlier, added sugars have adverse effects on your health. It is recommended to eat whole-grain bread, cereals, rice and pasta, and fruits and vegetables.
Step 6: Know the Percent Daily Value (%DV)
The Percent Daily Value (%DV) is the percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient per serving of food. Furthermore, Daily Value refers to the number of nutrients a person needs to consume or limit each day. It does not only cover one meal or snack; rather, it amounts to an entire day. In other words, %DV shows how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to your total daily diet.
Now, you do not need to calculate percentages to use the %DV when reading nutrition labels. The labels already have done the math for you. The Daily Value is expressed in grams, milligrams, or micrograms. It helps you compare nutrient numbers by putting them all on the same scale (0% to 100% DV) for the day. The %DV column in labels do not add up to 100%. Instead, it is the percentage of the Daily Value for each nutrient in a food serving. %DV tells you if a serving of food has a high or low amount of a specific nutrient. It also tells whether a serving of food contributes a lot, or a little, to your required daily consumption for each nutrient.
A 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low, while 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high. When reading nutrition labels, reach for products that are higher in %DV for Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. Subsequently, opt for foods that are lower in %DV for Saturated Fat, Sodium, and Added Sugars. For example, if a product has a 4% DV for sodium and added sugars, while it has a 32% DV for fibre and calcium, then it is a healthy food option you can add to your diet.
During shopping trips, you can compare food products using the %DV to make sure you choose something that you can maximize the nutrients. With that said, nutrients like Trans Fats and Total Sugars do not have %DV when listed on labels. Protein only details a %DV in specific situations.
Step 7: Read the ingredients list
Finally, if you want to be a conscious foodie, you do not stop at reading the nutrition labels alone. When it comes down to it, knowing the ingredients of the food your eating can help pinpoint whether or not it will benefit your health goals.
Foods with more than one ingredient must have their ingredients listed on the package. This way, the consumer knows what goes into the food they are eating. Ingredients are listed in descending order according to weight, meaning the item in the largest amount is listed first.
The ingredients list is helpful for people who have food sensitivities, want to avoid certain food types, or looking for vegetarian options. Avoid foods with artificial flavours and colouring. Stick to products with ingredients you recognize, this way, you are aware of the type of food you are consuming. Also, knowing the ingredients is helpful if you are trying to limit your fat and sugar intake. If fat and sugar are listed as the first or second ingredient, then the food is likely to be high in fat and sugar.
Those are some tips and tricks on reading nutrition labels. Diet is one of the most complicated components of losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle. With that said, you do not have to succumb to trendy food fads. You can still maximize nutrients from convenient food options. All you need is to be smart and know what type of food you are purchasing.
At the same time, do not rely on these food products alone. It is still best to prepare your food to make sure you are securing the nutrients you need. This serves as a reminder that there is nothing wrong with eating something out of a can, as long as you are conscious about what’s on your plate.