How to Read a Nutrition Facts Label

Food labels, reading nutrition facts labels

In several posts we’ve talked about reading food labels and ingredient lists. But what the heck does that mean and what are we looking, or rather not looking, for?

Photo from Heart.org

Let’s dive more into what we should be looking for and what we should be avoiding when reviewing food labels.

Serving Size

The first thing to look at is servings per container. Sometimes a product that you think is one serving, say a muffin for example, might have a serving size of 2, meaning the nutrition facts listed are for only half the muffin. Most of us, of course, are going to eat the entire thing, so what you thought was 200 calories, 10 grams of fat and 20 grams of sugar is actually 400 calories, 20 grams of fat and 40 grams of sugar. Big difference. You also see this pretty frequently on bottled “single serving” beverages. Keep an eye out and be aware of what you’re consuming.

Fats

Sodium

Cholesterol & Fiber

Cholesterol and fiber are also important to keep an eye on. Unfortunately most packaged and processed foods tend to have high cholesterol and low fiber – the opposite of what our bodies need. Just another reason to eat foods that grow from the ground instead of those that come from a shelf. Our bodies naturally produce all of the cholesterol that we need, so eating foods with excess cholesterol increases our risk for heart attack and stroke. Fiber, on the other hand, is vital for a healthy body. Fiber can actually help lower cholesterol and is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding diseases such as diabetes and heart disease, and feeds the healthy bacteria in our guts.

Sugar

The last area on the nutrition label we will cover is sugar. Similar to fats, all sugar is not created equal. The total sugar can include naturally occurring sugar such as what is found in fruit. For example, an apple contains around 25 grams of sugar depending on the variety. Here we want to keep an eye on the added sugar. Added sugars include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose and sucrose, among others, and are typically added to processed foods to make them sweeter and more enticing to consumers. Eating a diet high in added sugars can lead to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease.

Ingredient List

So what did we learn today? Read the labels on the products you purchase. Avoid bad fats, excess sodium and sugar and artificial ingredients. Your body will thank you.

As a reminder – I am not a doctor. If you have special dietary needs or would like to discuss a plan specific to you, please consult your physician.

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