By learning to interpret and understand food labels, you will be able to make better and more informed choices about the food you eat.
1. On a food label, you should find: the Nutrition Facts table which contains the suggested serving size, number of servings per container, number of calories and calories from fat. The nutritional analysis of the food is provided: nutrients that are required on all food labels include total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar, protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The food label will also list the ingredients used to prepare the product, as well as any potential allergens. Each of these will be discussed in turn.
2. Start off by looking at the serving size at the top of the Nutrition Facts table as all the nutritional information on the label relates to the serving size. The nutrient amounts listed in the Nutrition Facts table are stated in grams (g) or milligrams (mg), and as a percentage (%) of the Daily Value (DV). The DV is based on a 2,000 calorie diet. So assuming you consume 2,000 calories a day and you ate one serving of this particular food, you would have consumed:
* 200 calories (of which 15 calories come from fat);
* 1.5 g total fat (2% of the daily value);
* No cholesterol or sodium (0 mg);
* 41 g total carbohydrate (14% of the daily value);
* 6 g dietary fiber (24% of the daily value);
* 2 g sugar and 7 g of protein (sugar and protein do not have a
percent daily value);
* 8% of the daily iron requirement, 15% of the daily phosphorus, and
15% of the daily magnesium, but no significant amounts of Vitamin A or C, or calcium. One serving of this food contains at least 28 g of whole grain.
3. So we know the nutritional information is based on the serving size, i.e. 2 oz (56 g) in this example. Say you eat double the serving size, i.e. 4 oz (112 g); then you need to multiply all the amounts listed on the Nutrition Facts label by 2, so you’ll consume 400 calories, 3 g total fat, 82 g total carbohydrate, 12 g dietary fiber, etc. If you are watching your weight, pay special attention to the serving size, especially for calorie-dense and high-fat foods.
4. At the bottom of this Nutrition Facts table, you’ll find a statement which reads, “Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.” Underneath that you’ll find the daily values for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrate and dietary fiber based on 2,000 or 2,500 calories. If you consume 2,000 calories per day (look at the 2,000 calories column), then you should eat less than 65 g total fat per day, less than 20 g saturated fat, less than 300 mg cholesterol, less than 2,400 mg sodium, and aim to eat 300 g total carbohydrate, and 25 g of dietary fiber per day. Now look at the daily values listed under the 2,500 calorie column. All of them are higher except for cholesterol and sodium; the daily recommended amounts for cholesterol and sodium are always the same, regardless of the number of calories consumed per day.
Below that you will read, Protein 4.” The caloriesl Carbohydrate 4 l”Calories per gram: Fat 9 in food come from three sources – fat, carbohydrates and protein, so this means that 1 gram (g) of fat contains 9 calories, 1 g of protein contains 4 calories and 1 g of carbohydrates contains 4 calories. This indicates then, that the more fat you eat, the more calories you will consume.
5. Interpreting the list of ingredients: Ingredients in a food product are listed in descending order of weight (from most to least) according to the amount contained in the recipe. So the ingredient listed first occurs in the largest amount, followed by the next ingredient, and then the ingredient after that, and so on, until the last ingredient in the list, which is present in the smallest amount. In this particular example, the main ingredient in this food is whole durum wheat flour; the ingredient used in the smallest quantity is oat fiber (last ingredient on the list).
6. Allergens: An allergen is a substance that can cause an allergy. Examples include nuts, wheat, soy, milk and eggs. If you or anyone in your family has a food allergy, be sure to check the list of potential allergens or other warnings on the label which may alert you to other foods prepared on the same equipment. This food product contains wheat ingredients and is made on equipment that processes products that contain eggs.
7. Read the labels on your favorite food stuffs in your grocery cupboard, you might be surprised at what you find! Now that you know how to interpret and understand food labels, you can use this information to compare similar products to choose those foods which best suit your needs.