How to Read Nutrition Labels and Why Should

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Have you ever walked down the aisle of a grocery store, thinking if the items you picked up, checks off your grocery list and just randomly eyeing its nutrition label, wondering what exactly they are and what they mean?

Well, I have. And I am sure that you have, too.

Struggling with digestive distress such as bloating, upset stomach, and abdominal pain every time I eat certain kinds of food, curiosity crept in on me.

“What am I doing wrong with my diet?”

And that was when one random trip to the grocery store got me pondering about nutrition labels and ingredients listed found at the back of every food and beverage available in the market aisle.

But is being curious enough? No.

Before stomach problems happened, I used to eat anything I wanted without considering its consequences. Every day I continued with the same lifestyle, facing a new day became more difficult.

Then it dawned on me, that I could not keep living that same unhealthy lifestyle anymore. It became exhausting experiencing these pains all at once. And with that, I knew I needed to make a change; and that is doing something about my curiosity; by being conscious of what I consume.

Understanding what nutrition labels mean helps not only in determining if our body is receiving the right amount of nutrients it needs, but also guiding us in making healthier choices for ourselves and our family.

Here are the things to look for in Nutrition Labels:

1 – Start with serving information, found at the top of all nutrition labels.

It states the serving size of each serving and total servings per container and package.

2 – Check total calories per serving and container.

Compute how many calories we are getting per serving and container. Doubling the serving size eaten doubles calorie and nutrient intake.

3 – Limit certain nutrients

When comparing nutrition labels from different brands of similar product, choose the one with the lowest amount of added sugars (unhealthy sugar), saturated fat and trans fat (unhealthy fats).

4 – Getting the right amount of beneficial nutrients

Calcium, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, magnesium, Vitamins A, C, D, E, are few examples of nutrients our body need.

5 – Understanding % Daily Value (DV)

  • The % Daily Value (DV) indicates how much a nutrient in a serving of food contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

To add to the Nutrition Facts label, the majority of food manufacturers provide their products with a nutrient content claim, which is featured in ads for the food or food packages itself and FDA strictly defines these claims.

If a food claims to be: It means that one serving of the product contains:
Calorie-free Less than 5 calories
Sugar-free Less than 0.5 grams of sugar
Fat
Fat-free Less than 0.5 grams of fat
Low fat 3 grams of fat or less
Reduced fat or less fat At least 25% less fat than the regular variant
Low in saturated fat 1 gram of saturated fat or less, with not more than 15% of the calories coming from saturated fat
Lean Less than 10 grams of fat, 4.5 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol
Extra lean Less than 5 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat and 95 milligrams of cholesterol
Light/lite At least one-third fewer calories or no more than half the fat of the regular product, or no more than half the sodium of the regular product
Cholesterol
Cholesterol free Less than 2 milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams (or less of saturated fat
Low cholesterol 20 or fewer milligrams of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Reduced cholesterol At least 25% less cholesterol than the regular product and 2 grams or less of saturated fat
Sodium
Sodium free or no sodium Less than 5 milligrams of sodium and no sodium chloride in ingredients
Very low sodium 35 milligrams or less of sodium
Low sodium 140 milligrams or less of sodium
Reduced or less sodium At least 25% less sodium than the regular product
Fiber
High fiber 5 grams or more of fiber
Good source of fiber 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber

It’s all right if you can’t remember each and every definition of the terms provided. These general guidelines can be used instead:

  • “Free” means the food has the least possible amount of the specified nutrient
  • “Very Low” and “Low” means the food has a little more than foods labeled as “Free”
  • “Reduced” or “Less” means the food has 25% less of a particular nutrient than the regular variant of the food.

For those who are doing groceries with kids or running errands, it is only natural that you will not have the time to inspect nutrition labels found on your grocery list.

An example of a technique that I do which helped me tremendously in making healthier food choices is to take pictures of nutrition labels similar to the products in my grocery list and review them at home.

I too, was struggling with what kind of food to prepare for my family, and I understand that because we can only do so much in one day.

Do not be hard on yourself if that is the case.

No matter how busy you are juggling parenting, chores, preparing food that is rich in essential nutrients, among other things amazing parents do, you can accomplish anything you put your minds to, and that is to provide the healthiest food for you and your family.

For more information visit about Canada’s food labels visit:

https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/understanding-food-labels/nutrition-facts-tables.html

Sources:

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/understanding-food-nutrition-labels

https://www.fda.gov/Food/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm#twoparts