How to Read Food Labels

Food labels. Some people absorb every bit of information on the back of food packaging like a New York Times best seller while others avoid the percentages and dietary terminology like it’s the plague. Can there not be a happy medium where it is simple to glance at a food label and know which pieces matter and which ones do not affect overall health for the better or the worse? Yes, yes there can. And this happy medium is detailed in the information below.
Note: Steps to reading a food label using Mixed Nuts (Macadamias, Cashews, and Almonds), Lightly Salted 9.75 ounce can as an example.

Step 1: Start at the very beginning – the top
At the top of every food label is the serving size per container. For mixed nuts, the serving size is 1 oz., which is about 29 pieces. There are ten servings per container. This means the criteria specified in the food label only qualifies if roughly 29 nuts are consumed. This is important if you are trying to quantify your food intake accurately.

Step 2: Calories
The next line to stand out is the calorie count per serving. For mixed nuts, the count is 170 calories per serving or 29 pieces. Calories are essential to keep our bodies and minds moving; they are the fuels that give us energy. But, 140 of the 170 calories total in mixed nuts come from fat, which means we need to pay close attention to step three.

food_labels1Step 3: % Daily Value
The body needs certain amounts of fat, vitamins, protein, etc. to keep it moving and growing, and math tells us that 100% is a maximum total. Knowing these two things helps when evaluating the percentages on the right hand side of the food label table. The percentages specify how much one serving of the food being consumed contributes to the total needed for the day based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. To break that down, for mixed nuts the total fat is at 23%, which means by eating 29 nuts from the mixed nut can you have consumed 23% of the fat that our body needs for the day. When tracking the way we fuel our bodies, the percent daily value number is helpful in keeping track.

Step 4: Scan the Nutrients
Finally, when glancing at the food label, it is important to note what is going into the body. Fat, cholesterol, and sodium can increase the risk of diseases and should be consumed in limited amounts while fiber, vitamins, and minerals improve overall health and even prevent diseases. Fuel your body with the pieces that make it healthier and limit the poorer choices to smaller amounts.