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Things to Look for on Food Labels

Things to Look for on Food Labels

Why care about food labels?

In real estate market, the mantra is location, location, and location.  The equivalent for packaged and processed foods is label, label, and label. When choosing the foods to stock your pantry knowing what to look for in nutrition facts always starts with the label.  The FDA requires food labels on packaged items that include information on portion size, calories, and percent value of the categories from the food pyramid as well as a listing of the ingredients used.  This information can be helpful for managing weight, ensuring sufficient variety in the diet and for planning meals and snacks.

What to look for

When considering what to look for in nutrition facts the top priority in the food label is given to serving size.  The rationale for having serving size prominent on the label is that all the remaining nutritional value information listed based on one serving size. Knowing how many serving are contained a package of food will help manage calorie intake and also allow for monitoring the ingestion of fats, sugars and salt.  This can be especially important for individuals who are trying to lose weight, control hypertension and manage diabetes.

A second section of what to look for in nutrition facts is the percent of daily value that is based on consuming 2,000 calories, a recommendation for moderately active woman or a fairly sedentary man. All the components of the food with be provided as a percentage of the amount recommended for someone ingesting 2,000 calories. Adjustments upward in daily calorie and nutrient intake may be necessary for those who are more active, pregnancy or trying to gain weight.  The reverse is also true for those attempting to lose weight.  

The third section of what to look for in nutrition facts will vary on the label based on whether the component is present in detectable levels in the food.  The major categories on the label include:

  • total fat 
  • cholesterol
  • sodium
  • potassium
  • total carbohydrates
  • dietary fiber
  • sugars
  • proteins
  • vitamins
  • minerals

When assessing the total fat level it is also relevant to review numbers for saturated, polyunsaturated and monounsaturated and trans fats, avoiding choices high in monounsaturated and trans fats.  Beware of labels for “fat-free” as this is not the same as low-calorie as there is often sugar added to flavor low fat foods.

There are additional health concerns for consuming more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol (food in animal products), more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily or insufficient amounts of potassium (recommended 4, 700 milligrams daily) and dietary fiber (recommended 21-35 grams). In the US, consumption of enough protein (0.45 grams per pound of body weight daily) is not typically as concern unless the individual is a strict vegan diet or is suffering from a malabsorption disorder.

The fourth important section of the food label that helps to determine what to look for in nutrition facts is the listing of ingredients in packaged foods. It is required that product ingredients be listed in the order of quantity contained in the food with the most prevalent first.  One quick way to determine food selection is to avoid those with sugar or fat as a primary ingredient.  Reading this section will also identify artificial ingredients that are added to a food that should be avoided for those with insensitivities, allergies or simply concerns about synthetic additives and preservatives.  So when deciding what to look for in nutrition facts beginning with labels is a great way to finding the optimal choices of what to eat.

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