Reading Nutrition Labels for Better Health
Getting healthy may be as easy as reading labels. Food and supplement labels provide a wealth of information on the products inside the container. Labels can describe portion sizes, calorie counts, ingredients, preservatives, and nutritional content. Reading labels helps consumers get the most out of the products they buy, but these labels can be confusing at first glance.
How to Read a Label
Start at the top
Read about serving sizes and servings per package. Food packagers have standardized serving sizes in familiar units, such as pieces, ounces, or cups.
Read the servings per package
You might be surprised to find that many products contain two servings in one easy-to-eat package. Serving sizes determine the number of calories and other nutrients, with larger portions providing more vitamins, saturated fat, cholesterol, calories, and fiber than smaller servings.
Look at the number of total calories listed on the label
Calories provide the body with the energy it needs to function well, but consuming too many calories leads to weight gain. According to the American Heart Association, any product claiming to be “calorie free” must contain 5 calories or fewer per serving. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration provides the following general guide for determining whether a serving is high or low in calories, based on a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet:
- 40 calories is relatively low
- 100 calories is moderate
- 400 calories or more is relatively high
Read the nutrient list
Food packagers arrange the nutrient list into two categories: the nutrients you should limit and those you should consume. You will find total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, and total carbohydrates in the first section. Limit your total fat to 56 to 78 grams daily, including 16 grams of saturated fat and fewer than 2 grams of trans fat. Cap your daily cholesterol intake at about 300 mg.
The second category includes dietary fiber, sugars, protein, vitamins, and minerals.
You should consume 25 to 30 grams of fiber from food each day, but the average American consumes only 15 grams daily.
A sugar-free product must contain less than 0.5 grams of sugar. Labels describe vitamins and minerals in terms of percentage of daily value, or %DV, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Reading labels is essential for getting healthy through proper nutrition. Dr. Ashish Sitapara and the other caring medical professionals at Signature Medicine are always glad to help people living in Newtown, PA, and the surrounding area get well and stay healthy.