People want to know what they’re putting in their bodies. It’s that simple. But for a long time, there was no such thing as nutrition facts labels. Luckily, now food labels are pretty thorough. When you study a nutrition facts label though, it can be somewhat confusing.
But you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to decode food labels, you just need to know what to look for. Whether it’s serving size, dietary fiber content, whether or not there’s corn syrup, or how much protein a product contains — it’s all on the label.
There are clues to a healthier life all over your food’s nutrition facts labels. Now you just need to know how to decode food labels and what’s most important.
The Basics Of The Nutrition Facts Label
Many people think public health information is included on labels for the sole purpose of monitoring their body weight, but there is a lot more a label can tell you than how much trans fat is in a product.
Food and beverage labels can alert you to contents you may be allergic to or they can signal whether or not something is beneficial or detrimental to your heart health. When it comes to food safety, label-reading know-how matters. Once you’ve got the basics, you can make the right choices in terms of adhering to your healthy diet.
The first thing you should know about nutrition label basics is that the top portion of food labels usually contain information that is specific to the product itself. This information is often about the correct serving size, caloric content, and the actual information about nutrients. For instance, there may be information about if the product contains vitamin D, vitamin A, or unsaturated fat (to name a few examples).
What Will Every Nutrition Facts Label Have On It?
Every label — from whole grain bread packages to ice cream containers, or bags of popcorn to jars of salsa — will actually have the information listed below:
- Serving size
- Calories per serving
But food labels will usually have more than that. Whether you’re looking at cookies, dairy products, or something as simple as table salt, the labels should also tell you the % daily value.
What is the % daily value (labeled %DV)? Essentially, the % daily value is the percentage of the Daily Value for every nutrient within a single serving of a certain food. Usually, the values will be marked in the following units of measurement: grams, milligrams, and micrograms. The %DV reminds you how many nutrients to consume (or the amount not to exceed) in a given day.
You’ll notice not every listed nutrient has a % daily value. For instance, added sugars and trans fat will not have a %DV because you shouldn’t really consume those anti-nutrients to begin with.
Where To Start When Examining Your Nutrition Facts Labels?
The first thing you want to consider when studying the nutrition label is the listed servings per container or servings per package. The reason serving sizes are standard is so that you can compare foods that are alike.
But be aware, serving sizes are not about how much you should eat. Instead, they show the amount of the food the average person tends to eat in one sitting. And pay special attention to how many servings come in a box. If there are 8 servings in a box, you probably don’t want to eat the whole thing.
Conversely, if you decide to eat three servings of a product, multiply the value of the calories, the amount of sodium, the fat content by three.
Do I Need To Read Every Nutrition Facts Label?
Now, you do not actually need to read every nutrition facts label. Sometimes you’ll know the values of a product’s nutritional content because it’s something you buy regularly. However, if you’re buying a new brand for the first time, you might want to scan the label.
Unless you are dealing with a specific health issue, you might just want to clock a few nutrient details like calories per serving, whether or not the product has corn syrup or trans fat, or the number of added sugars.
Remember, if your diet is relatively heavy when it comes to calories from added sugars, it can really mess with your blood sugar levels. There is a lot of scientific evidence that consuming too much added sugar can increase your risk of certain health concerns like weight gain, heart health issues, compromised blood sugar levels, liver health concerns, and potential brain health issues.1
Eat More Of These Nutrients: Dietary Fiber, Calcium, Iron, Vitamin D, And Potassium
When it comes to dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D, potassium, and iron, you want to hike up your intake. Why? Well, the listed nutrients are really good for you (generally speaking). But most people don’t get enough of those particular nutrients.
A healthy diet should consist of a good amount of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber can help support better regularity and digestion. It can also help regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels. And, in some cases, dietary fiber even assists with a reduction in your caloric intake.2
Similarly, a healthy diet high in calcium, iron, vitamin D, and potassium can help reduce the risk of certain major health concerns like compromised bone health, red blood cell deficiency, and an increase in your blood pressure.3
Labels can help you eat cleanly. Food nutrition labels can help you create your own version of a healthy diet. Everyone’s needs are different, but labels are there so you can choose the right foods to suit your particular health needs. You can increase the nutrients your body needs and limit the nutrients your body doesn’t need — that’s why food labels are so detailed.
What Is Clean Eating?
Clean eating isn’t really a diet. It’s more like a way of life. By eating clean, you can often improve your health without having to think about it too much. There are a couple of simple rules when it comes to clean eating, but once you lock those rules down in your memory it’s really easy to eat clean.
For starters, you want to avoid boxes, bags, and jars. Whole foods (foods that are one ingredient and come directly from the source like a plant or animal) are among the healthiest foods out there. Clean foods contain fewer (and sometimes no) preservatives. The foods are not refined at all or processed in any way. Plus, they’re just as flavorful as foods loaded with chemicals, sugars, and shoved in a box or bag.
Do your best to prepare well-balanced meals. Always carry a healthy snack with you. These foods should nourish you and satiate your hunger. Apples, bananas, nuts, and seeds are great snack foods to put in your briefcase or handbag.
If you know you have a long day at work, are going to be running a lot of errands, have to travel, or will be heading for an intense workout — it’s even more important to keep healthy snacks with you. That way, you won’t cave and get something from a fast food drive-thru or convenience store.
Nutrition Facts Labels: Wrapping It All Up (And Labeling It)
Paying attention to nutrition facts labels can help you live a cleaner lifestyle. Being aware of what you’re putting in your body will help you make decisions about what you eat. If you see the fat content or added sugar content in a food before you eat it, you may think twice about whether or not you really want it in the first place.
So, take a look at your food labels. Compare brands. The more you consider the health pros and cons of the foods you eat now, the less you’ll have to pay attention in the future because you’ll start to be able to predict a food’s nutrient content.
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