As shoppers we often compare prices of food items in the grocery store to choose the best value for our “buck”. However comparing items using food labels can help us choose the greatest value for our health. The food label is one of the most valuable tools we have as customers. Reading food labels makes it much easier for us to compare foods and find the ones that have the nutritional value that our bodies need. It helps us and our families make healthy choices about the foods we’re buying. As providers and consumers, we need to make knowledgeable choices about the foods we ingest and feed our families. This is where food labels come in.
Labels are designed so that we’re provided with useful data about our purchase and how it fits into our daily diets. Food labels are the sources of product information. The nutrition label provides key information such as serving size, calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, protein, carbohydrate and vitamin content. The label also contains a list of the ingredients. This information helps us stay on track with our daily objectives. It also helps us to avoid certain ingredients, like for those of us who suffer from specific food intolerances or are following a diet that prohibit certain elements. Ingredients are listed in order of amount, the greatest quantities come first, and the lowest quantities come at the end. A product that lists sugar or corn syrup as its first ingredient is guaranteed to be high in calories and low in nutrition. Learning how to read and understand food labels can help us make healthier choices.
The first place to commence when looking at the Nutrition Facts label is the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods; they’re shown in familiar units, like cups or pieces, trailed by the metric amount. It’s crucial that we pay attention to the calories per serving and how many servings we’re really consuming, that is if we choose to eat the whole package. If we double the servings we eat, we double the calories and nutrients we intake. That’s one of the most common mistakes made when reading food labels. A food label may indicate that the item has 100 calories and only 5 grams of sugar. However, when we look at the number of servings, it may read 4. That means that if we were to eat the entire package, we would be getting 4 times the amount of calories and sugar shown on the label.
Government regulation states that nutrients must be declared on the Nutrition Facts Label as “percent Daily Value” (%DV); the %DV tells the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily-recommended amount. The * used after the heading %Daily Value on the Nutrition Facts label refers to the footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label, which tells us %DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This statement must be on all food labels. As a guide, when we want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), we should choose foods with a lower %DV of 5 percent or less. 10-20% of our daily-recommended amount of a nutrient, is a good source of that nutrient and more than 20%, is high. We need to eat a certain amount of unsaturated fats, carbohydrates, proteins, minerals, and vitamins each day to stay healthy. If we follow this dietary guidance, we’ll stay within the public health experts’ recommended upper or lower limits for the nutrients listed, based on a 2,000-calorie daily diet. Upper limits means it’s recommended that we stay below and eat “less than” the Daily Value nutrient amounts listed per day.
Despite a wide variety of available nutritious foods, many of us fail to eat our suggested amounts of fundamental nutrients. Checking food labels for nutrients like, fiber content can play a vital role in helping us increase or maintaining our daily-recommended amount of said nutrient. For example, not all brown breads contain abundant amounts of fiber, some manufacturers use coloring to make bread look healthier, and that’s why it’s important that we read the label. Food manufacturers also do quite a lot of “manipulating” when it comes to foods that come in packages that say “diet” or “low-fat”. A zero-calorie product can actually contain up to 4 calories per serving. A fat-free product can contain up to 0.5 grams of fat per serving and a low-fat product can have as much as 3 grams for solid products and 1.5g for liquid products (Remember, that’s per serving).
Food and nutrition labels can be advantageous for those of us who want to lead a healthy life. Each of us has to learn to take the time and read, because it’ll either foster wellness or harm not only our bodies, but our friends and families as well. Notice that fresh fruits and vegetables don’t have food labels. That’s because they’re in their natural form with no preservatives or other ingredients added. It’s not a processed food. It’s always healthier to buy fresh foods and whole grains, and reduce our consumption of processed foods. The more we eat natural, whole foods, lean meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds the better it is for all of our health. If a portion of our diet consists of something out of a box, bag, or can, we should probably read the ingredient label and find out what we’re really ingesting.