Nutrition and Fitness, Your Health Ben Brown | 7 years ago

What’s Hiding in Your Food? A Guide to Reading Food Labels

Look at any packaged food and you’ll find a food label. These provide the nutrition facts for what’s in the food, as well as information like ingredients, where the food came from and whether the food is organic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) require that all food labels show the same nutrition and health information, allowing consumers to compare different foods. “Food labels give you information that can help you decide what to choose as part of an overall healthy eating plan,” says Michelle Musselwhite, RD, LDN, registered dietitian with Carolinas HealthCare System’s Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute cardiac rehab program. “Reading food labels will allow a person to see what the nutrient content of each product is, how ‘whole’ versus ‘processed’ it is, and allow for comparing between products.” Here are some of the things you’ll find on food labels and why they’re important:
  • Ingredients – These are listed in order of concentration. Read carefully and watch for hidden sugars, salt and additives.
  • Serving Size – Use this to compare how much you actually eat. Are you eating more or less than recommended?
  • Calories – Calories do count. Be careful how many servings you are actually eating: if you’re eating two servings, double the calorie count listed. Also, watch “calories from fat.” Limit your servings if the label indicates a high percentage.
  • % Daily Value (DV): This shows how much of the recommended amounts of these nutrients are in one serving, based on a 2,000 calorie diet. These percentages make it easier to compare foods.
  • Fats – Not all fat is equal. Limit trans and saturated fats, and aim for foods high in monosaturated fats.
  • Sodium – A product with 5 percent of DV is considered low sodium. 20 percent or more is a high-sodium food. Your total recommended daily intake of sodium should be 2,400 mg or less.
  • Cholesterol – Cholesterol is only found in foods from animal sources, such as meat, poultry and full-fat dairy products. The lower the percentage of DV in this category, the better.
  • Vitamins/Nutrients – Choose products with the higher percentage of DV, especially for vitamins A and C, as well as iron and calcium. Your goal should be to reach 100 percent for each vitamin and mineral each day.
  • Carbohydrates: Try to keep dietary fiber at 3 grams or more and sugars at 10 grams or less. Avoid refined and added sugars.
  • Recommended Amounts: In this section on a food label, you can see the recommended daily amounts for each nutrient at two calorie levels: 2,000 and 2,500-calorie daily diet. Use this as a guide; your needs may be different, depending on your age, gender or activity level.
A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love. Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.