Everything you need to know about Nutrition Labels
When trying to eat better the best way to start choosing healthy foods is checking nutrition labels. But with so many ingredients, nutrients and more, it can be difficult to determine the best food choice. If you too find yourself confused in the supermarket aisle – here is a helpful guide to help you on your next grocery trip.
Serving size is usually right at the top of a nutrition label and that makes sense – it is the first thing you should check. While a food may look to be low in calories, if you’re likely to eat two or three times the serving size, that good-for-you snack can soon become an unhealthy indulgence.
Serving size can also help make sure that when you’re looking at two products, you’re comparing similar amounts. For example, one box might advertise 100 calories for six crackers, while another only four. Checking the food serving size can help make sure you’re choosing the right food for your health goals.
Right below, serving size is calories. The average American adult has calorie requirements of about 2000kcal/day. However, many things like weight goals, lifestyle and activity levels can influence how many you need. If you’re unsure about your calorie requirements, calculators exist online that can help you determine how many you need for your current weight or goal weight. Overall, understanding how many calories are in your food choices can help you make healthier selections.
If you’re trying to eat better, you might be tempted to swear off fats entirely, but, in moderation, fats are an important component of a healthy diet. Diet experts state that fats should make up about 20-35% of one’s daily intake. However, not all fats are equal. Try to pick options that have a higher percentage of unsaturated fats and little or no saturated and trans fats. Saturated and trans fats have both been linked to increased cholesterol levels and cardiac issues. So limiting these as much as possible, while still getting some fats, can make sure you’re choosing the best foods.
Carbohydrates are what gives our cells energy and therefore should make up the highest component of our diet at 40-60%. However, just like with fats, you need to be choosy here as well. When looking at carbohydrates try to pick options that list whole grains in their ingredients, as these are higher in nutrients and protective against cancer and type II diabetes. Also look for options that are high in fiber, which is important for digestive health, and low in sugar.
The third macronutrient, after fats and carbohydrates, is protein. Protein should only make up between 10% and 35% of our diet but it is absolutely essential for building muscle mass and keeping our energy levels high. While not all healthy foods will be a good source of protein, you should try to eat at least one good source of protein with every meal. Most Americans have no trouble getting sufficient amount of proteins though, so this probably isn’t one you have to worry about too much unless your vegetarian, vegan or trying to bulk up. If you fall into these categories, you’ll have to spend some time making sure you are picking foods that allow you to meet your protein needs.
High levels of sodium are something you should be concerned with as sodium is associated with several health issues including cardiac problems and kidney dysfunction. According to the American Heart Association, an ideal amount is less than 1500mg a day, however, unless you have a preexisting condition such as high blood pressure, eating up to 2300mg a day, or even slightly more according to some sources, is fine. Processed and canned foods especially tend to be high in salt, so try whenever possible to pick low-sodium options when comparing these.
Vitamins and Minerals
Having a higher proportion of vitamins and minerals in your foods is always a plus. Most experts agree that having at least 20% of a certain vitamin makes a food a good source. Since vitamins and minerals are associated with everything from good vision to bone growth to healthy skin, try to choose foods that give you higher percentages of your vitamins and minerals when you can.
Finally, while no one expects you to know all the ingredients in every food you eat, reading through the ingredients list can help you choose healthy options. Remember that ingredients are listed from most to least prominent. Therefore, try to pick foods that don’t have sugar, high-fructose corn syrup or sucrose as the first ingredient. Similarly, try to avoid foods that list partially hydrogenated oil or shortening, as these are big contributors to high cholesterol levels and can lead to cardiac problems. BHA, benzoates and sulphites have also all been linked to bad health outcomes and should be avoided if possible. Finally, as previously mentioned, try to choose options that list whole grains in the ingredients.
Picking healthy foods for yourself and your family can seem like a daunting task but knowing what to look for on nutrition labels can help you make sure you’re choosing the right ones. If you enjoyed this article please like it or share it with your friends.
Want more inforation about how to read nutrition labels? Here is our pick for you.
The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label
An Easy Way to Visualize How Much Sugar Is Actually In the Stuff You Eat
How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label | The Beachbody Blog
Nutrition labels on packaged foods to change: Health Canada