Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label

by | Aug 23, 2012 | Health Habits, Nutrition Support, Uncategorized

nutrition facts labelHow many times have you reached for a quick and easy breakfast option?  Or perhaps you regularly grab a nutrition bar for an afternoon snack.  Maybe you always buy the same brand of yogurt from the vending machine at work.

Many people rely on healthy snacks to get them through the day – especially if they are on a diet.  However, even if you planned ahead and purchased something “healthy” for these instances, were you really making a wise selection?

Many times, we fall for the marketing ploy that companies use to snag our attention.  We only pay attention to the big print – words like “Extra protein!” and “Rich in vitamins!”  We assume the product we are buying is actually healthy.  However, we need to ignore the big print and instead focus on the fine print – the information shared in the nutrition facts label.  Once you understand the nutrition label, you can use it to make quick, informed food choices. 

Reading from top to bottom

When you read a nutrition facts label, start at the top and work your way down.  Pay attention to three basic sections of information first – serving and calorie information; “limit these” nutrients; and “get enough of these” nutrients.

1.  Serving size, number of servings per package, and number of calories

The serving size information has been standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods.  It is first expressed in familiar units like cups or pieces and then followed up by the metric amount.

Pay special attention to the serving size and number in a package.  Maybe you just polished off both pieces in a package of breakfast bars.  Then you checked the serving size information and realized one serving is one bar; there were actually two servings in that package.  If that is the case, you just doubled the amount of calories!

The calorie count is especially important for people who are trying to manage their weight (to gain, lose, or maintain).  Most people consume more calories than they need to.  When you look at a nutrition facts label, note the following:

  • 40 calories for one serving is low
  • 100 calories for one serving is moderate
  • 400 calories or more for one serving is high

2.  “Limit These” Nutrients

The first group of nutrients listed are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts or too much.  Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases (like heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure).

3.  “Get Enough of These” Nutrients

Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets.  Consuming more of these nutrients can improve your health by reducing the risk of disease.  For example, consuming plenty of calcium is crucial to preventing osteoporosis.

Reading from left to right

Another helpful bit on information on the nutrition facts label is the %DV or percent daily value.  These numbers are based on a 2,000 calories per day diet.  Check out each nutrient and assess the %DV listed.  Generally speaking, 5%DV or less is a low amount, 20%DV or more is high.

You’ll notice there is no %DV for trans fat or sugar.  That is because there are no dietary recommendations for these items.  They should be consumed in moderation.

Author’s Bio: Guest blogger Lindsey Clement is always on the lookout for healthy and nutritious foods.  She works hard to manage her weight by restricting calories (and using products from Trim Nutrition) while maintaining a healthy diet.  She never puts a food item into her grocery cart without first checking the nutrition facts label.


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