Healthy eating is now easier thanks to the nutrition label. In the grocery store, most of the foods must now have an ingredient list and a nutrition label. Reading and using this label can help you to choose healthier foods to plan your meals and snacks. By eating a healthy diet you can then help to reduce your risk factors for some diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure.
So what information is on a label and what does it all mean? Let us go through all the major points one by one.
- Serving Size- this tells you the specific amount of the food item which the nutrients on the label are based on. Ask yourself if your serving is the same size as the one listed on the label. If you eat ½ as much, you must cut the nutrient values in half, or if you eat twice as much, you must double the nutrient values.
- Calories- this is the total number of calories this food has in the serving size listed. Compare it to the number of total calories per day you are trying to eat for weight management.
- Calories from Fat- this represents how much of the total caloric content of the food is contributed by calories from fat. This number should be about 1/3 or less of the total calories the food item provides. Try to choose foods with a big difference between the total number of calories and the calories from fat
- Total fats- Try to keep this low as most people need to reduce the amount of fat in their diet. Too much fat can lead to heart disease and cancer.
- Saturated Fat- Saturated fats are a part of the total fat in food items. Try to eat less, as this is the fat which raises blood cholesterol levels and can lead to heart disease.
- Cholesterol- The challenge is to eat less than 300 mg/day to reduce your risk of heart disease.
- Sodium- This is what we refer to as salt. Too much can lead to high blood pressure. Try to keep your sodium intake to 1500 mg. or less each day.
- Total Carbohydrates- Carbohydrates are found in foods like bread, crackers, pasta, fruits and dairy products. They provide nutrients and energy to your daily diet.
- Dietary Fiber- Fiber has been shown to help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and also to help control blood sugar levels. Fiber is found in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and dried beans and peas. Aim for 25-35 grams per day
- Protein- Select lean cuts of meat, fish and poultry and eat small servings to help limit fat and cholesterol. Skim milk yogurt and cheese are also protein sources. Try vegetable proteins too, such as beans, grains and cereals!
Key words on a label mean you can trust what they say as defined by government standards. As an example-
Fat Free= less than 0.5 gm/fat/serving
Low Fat= 3 gm/fat/serving or less
Lean= Less than 10 gm/fat, 4 gm/saturated fat and 95mg/cholesterol per serving.
Light (Lite) - 1/3 less calories or no more than ½ the fat of the regular version; also no more than ½ the sodium of the regular version
Cholesterol Free- less than 2 mg/cholesterol and 2 gms. or less saturated fat per serving.
Now grocery shop with a new focus as you label read the labels on the items you plan to purchase for your meals and snacks.
Be label savvy and use those that are the healthiest options for your health goals!!