Deciphering a Nutritional Label

Posted: February 1, 2012 in Nutrition
Tags: , ,

So you know you need to watch your calories, but beyond that, what else is listed on a nutritional label? Here is a breakdown of a typical label. All packaged items in the US are required to have a label that covers the following information.

– Serving Size: This indicates how much of the product the figures relate to; it is followed by total grams.
Servings Per Container: This indicates how many servings of the above size are in the box or package.

– Amount Per Serving: This indicates the number of calories per serving. These samples also list how many of those calories are from fat.

– Listing of the food nutrients with their respective gram amount. Notice the % Daily Value* amounts. These percentages represent how much is in the serving of the total daily amount of the item that a person on a 2,000-calorie diet should consume. This may be different for your caloric needs. I for instance, do not require a 2,000 calorie diet so I must adjust the percentages to work for me. You will need to do the same.

– Observe the fats section. It is broken down into several types. As of January 2005, manufactures were required to list the amount of trans fat in their product, because it has been shown to have a direct relationship with elevated LDL cholesterol and heart disease. Some physicians believe that any margarine, vegetable shortening, or partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided. They are typically found in baked goods and packaged and fast foods. I try to avoid purchasing packaged items at all costs, especially if they are not organic. I absolutely will not purchase anything that contains Trans Fats or any partially hydrogenated oils. This does eliminate a lot of cereals, snack products, and pretty much all “ready meals” (i.e. Tuna Helper, Mac n Cheese, etc). You will need to figure out what your thoughts are in regards to these fats. Everyone and every family is different. Make the decision that will best work for your family’s health and situation and stick with it. Read more about Trans Fats HERE.
Other items are also listed that people should be aware of. Continuously keep in mind the amount of cholesterol, sodium, and sugars in each product.

– A list of vitamins and minerals in the serving are included next. Manufacturers add them to “fortify” their products. Personally, I believe that food, REAL food that grows or makes a sound, contains its own naturally occurring vitamins and minerals… if you have to add in “good stuff”, it isn’t real food, and it isn’t for me or my family.
The list of ingredients follows the nutritional information and should include everything in the product. You will note many chemical additives: some enhance taste or color, while others prolong the shelf life of the product. The ingredient with the highest content is listed first, while the smallest is listed last. Pay careful attention to the ingredients if you have food allergies. Many common allergies are related to the additives that are present in packaged foods.

A few extra tips:
*Read the food labels at the grocery store prior to making any purchases.
*Some food labels claim to be low in fat or salt or to contain no (zero) cholesterol, but then they are generally high in sugar and calorie content.
*Prepared foods and many of the fast foods we choose to eat usually contain more fat, sugar, and salt than those foods that we cook for ourselves.
*Manufacturers add increased amounts of salt and other flavor enhancers in order to make the lower-calorie food item taste better. This is why a prepackaged cookie can last for months in your pantry but a fresh baked one from your kitchen will last only days.
**Information taken from Medical Assisting Administrative And Clinical Competencies 6th Edition

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