Updated: Aug 9, 2018
Reading food labels does not have to be tricky. In fact, it can be fun. Look at it as an opportunity to challenge yourself! The goal is to maximize your nutritive intake while keeping caloric consumption low. If you follow these simple tips, you may find yourself eating more nutrient-dense foods and giving your body what it needs to stay healthy.
1) Check the serving size and calories.
The nutrition facts label on product packages are predicated in one serving. Serving sizes are described in common measurements like cups, ounces or pieces.
It is not uncommon to have more than one serving in a container. If you eat two servings, you are doubling the amount of calories you consume as well.
Calories are considered a unit of energy. It takes 3,500 calories to burn one pound of fat. Weight management tip: if you create a calorie deficit of 3,500 per week, you can lose one pound of body fat; i.e. eat 500 calories less than your body needs per day and by day seven you will reach 3,500.
If you consistently consume more calories than you burn, your body will store the excess calories as fat.
2) Monitor your salt content.
In general, processed foods have more sodium than fresh foods.
Sodium is vital for certain functions in your body like muscle contraction, but most Americans consume too much.
Reducing the amount of sodium you consume in your daily diet can lower your risk of developing hypertension or high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association considers normal blood pressure to be a systolic (upper number) value less than 120 and a diastolic (lower number) value less than 80.
3) Know your fat.
Fats are an essential part of your diet. Fats provide a source of energy for your body and also are an important part of many cellular interactions and processes in the body.
There are three major types of fats: saturated, unsaturated and trans fat. Eating high levels of saturated and trans fat can increase your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
A good way to differentiate between saturated and unsaturated fats is that saturated fats are usually solids, while unsaturated fats are usually liquids at room temperature.
Unsaturated fats require more energy to break down than saturated fats which means your body has to expend more energy to get their nutritive value.
4) Look for healthy carbohydrates.
Make sure to limit your consumption of foods that have added sugars (glucose, fructose, sucrose, corn syrup, etc).
Added sugars increase calories, but do not necessarily add other essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.
Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and beans are good sources of carbohydrates.
Foods high in dietary fiber are a great source of carbohydrates. Current dietary guidelines suggest consuming between 25 – 30 grams of dietary fiber per day.
5) Understand your percent Daily Values (%DV).
The %DV is based on a 2,000 calorie diet and serve as a general guideline to help you gauge how much a serving of food contributes to your daily total nutrient count.
Your personal daily values may be slightly different based on your energy expenditure. Use the %DV to ensure you’re getting nutrients you need.*
*This is not intended to be individualized nutritional advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for specific dietary recommendations.