How To Understand Nutrition Labels

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Having a hard time understanding all the difficult terms on nutrition labels? Fear not, for you are not alone. Saturated fat, trans fat, partially hydrogenated oils, carboxymethyl cellulose, sodium hexametaphosphate, maltodextrin… it’s all just too much to take in. We want to help you understand the foods you eat so you know if you’re eating healthily or not.

People look at nutrition labels for different reasons. Whatever the reason, it’s always a good idea to know what you’re putting into your body. Before you jump to the ingredients, take the time to read the nutritional label. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know about nutritional labels.

Serving size: Start by looking at serving size, which is the exact measure that all calories, fat, sugar, or sodium are related to. For example, if the serving size is one cup, all amounts are for that measurement. The 150 calories in this 1-cup serving size double if you eat 2 servings. There is a chance that a carton, sachet or bottle of something may not correspond to a serving size.

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Calories: The next thing people see, and often the most obvious, is the calories. The calorie count is the amount of energy you get from one serving size of that food. Many Americans consume too many calories due to portion bias. The calorie section of every nutrition label can help people count calories when trying to lose weight. In the average American diet, normal daily caloric intake is 1,800-2,200 calories for adult females and 2,000-2,500 calories for adult males. These are average calculations that vary based on physical activity and health status. Recall: If you’re trying to lose weight, it’s best to eat between 1,200 and 1,500 calories a day.

Sodium: The average American eats too much salt. Your maximum daily sodium intake should not exceed 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon). If you are over 40 or have high blood pressure, it is recommended that you consume 1,500 mg of sodium per day or less. It’s best to avoid as much salt as possible, as excessive salt consumption can lead to heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or atherosclerosis. When adding salt to your food, there are natural salts that are better for you than regular table salt.

fats: There are good fats and bad fats. Unsaturated fats are acceptable, in reasonable amounts of course. You want to put something back on the shelf if it contains saturated or trans fats. Both of these can lead to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol and decreased HDL (good) cholesterol. When looking for fats on a nutrition label, also look at the ingredients list. Due to a labeling loophole, companies can use 0.5g of trans fat per serving, even if the product says it’s fat-free. How to check: Check ingredients to see if hydrogenated oils are included. If there are any, the product contains some trans fat.

Sugar: Sugar goes by many names, so check the ingredient list for names like galactose, dextrose, fructose, or glucose. There are also added sugars or sweeteners like aspartame and high fructose corn syrup that should be avoided. Natural sweeteners such as stevia or organic agave are best. Sugar can be in unlikely foods to add flavor. They can be found in unhealthy cereals or salad dressings. So beware of hidden sugar.

Carbohydrates: Sugar, fiber, and refined carbs (avoid those) fall under the carb umbrella. Carbohydrates are a great source of energy if you eat the right ones. Complex carbohydrates, which are often found in whole grains or fruits and vegetables, are much better for you than refined carbohydrates. When you include fiber-rich fruits and vegetables in your diet, you can improve digestion, increase energy levels, and you’ll eat less because you’ll feel fuller.

Vitamins & Minerals: Most Americans don’t get enough of vitamins A and C. Pay attention and make sure you’re getting your daily dose. You can also eat fresh fruits and vegetables to meet, if not exceed, your daily needs for most of the vitamins and minerals necessary for good health. Potassium, magnesium, calcium and iron are great minerals, some of which are found primarily in avocados, dark leafy greens, raw nuts and seeds or bananas and many other foods. You can also take herbal supplements to get the vitamins and minerals you need.

Ingredients: The ingredients are on the label for a reason, and they’re small for a reason too! Many people overlook the ingredients, some of which can be harmful to your health. The main ingredients of the food are listed first. If the ingredient is too difficult to pronounce, we recommend staying away from it. Look for short ingredient lists with easy-to-understand ingredients.

That’s a lot to understand, but hopefully it’s helped you understand nutritional labeling a little better. If you have any questions about what is best to consume/avoid for your health, please email or call us. We are here to help.

Thanks to Vinnie Stevens

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