Reading food labels is crucial to maintaining a healthy diet. This year, I'm taking a nutrition course, and in it we've learned a lot about the importance of food labels and knowing how to read them. Knowing what nutrients you're eating naturally and what nutrients you aren't will help when choosing dietary supplements (whatever nutrients you don't intake sufficient amounts of) and will help you maintain a healthy diet.
Check the Serving Size
While a food may be low in calories, it may also be a very small portion. The serving size, located at the top, will give you an amount in a familiar measurement, (ie. cups, tablespoons, etc.) and then an estimate of about how many servings are in the whole box, bottle, etc. The serving size is very important when comparing items because some may have a larger serving than others.
Check the Calories
Check the calories per serving size, then try to estimate how many servings you plan on eating. If there are 200 calories in one cup of rice, and you plan on eating two cups, then you should estimate that it would be around 400 calories. Say out of 200 of those calories, 60 come from fat. If you eat two cups, then 120 calories come from fat.
In general, 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories is high. Oftentimes, people link eating too many calories in a day to obesity. The average intake of calories a day should be around 2,000. However, if you are super active, you will need more than that. The amount of calories one person needs per day changes between individuals and activity levels.
Nutrients to Limit:
High levels of cholesterol are often related to high blood pressure. Foods high in cholesterol include butter, red meat, cheese, and many more. Most people intake a sufficient amount of cholesterol, and many often have to limit their intake. If you want to know more about lowering your cholesterol, check out this article.
High levels of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, osteoporosis, etc. Foods high in sodium include smoked or cured meat, frozen breads, chips, etc. Lowering your use of table salt is one way to lower sodium levels.
"Carbs are the devil" is by far my favorite way to represent this oh-so-delicious nutrient. While there are good carbs and bad carbs, we tend to eat more bad than good. Good carbs (aka whole carbs) can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. Bad carbs (aka refined carbs) can be found in fruit juices, pastries, white bread, an so forth.
Nutrients to Fill Up On:
Dietary fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Dietary fiber can be found in oats, peas, beans, citrus fruits, etc.
Vitamin A can help benefit eye health, boost immunity, and foster cell growth. It also fights inflammation and helps prevent cancer. Vitamin A can be found in eggs, fruits, and many vegetables.
Calcium is often associated with healthy bones, gums, and teeth. However, calcium also helps fight obesity, control blood pressure, prevent colon cancer and kidney stones, and protect cardiac muscles. Calcium can be found in cheese, milk, leafy greens, and almonds. Don't like dairy products? You have plenty of other options to choose from.
Reading the Percent Daily Value
The percent daily value tells you how many nutrients are in one serving out of your total value of allowed nutrients. If you're trying to limit nutrients, you will want to look for foods that have low percent daily values of those nutrients. However, if you want to consume more of a specific nutrient, then look for foods that have a high percent daily value of those nutrients.
For example, a food that has a high percent daily value of vitamin C or vitamin A is considered a "good, healthy choice." However, a food that has a high percent daily value of sodium is probably not the healthiest choice.
Now that you know how to properly read a food label and you know what to look for in your food, head on over to the grocery store to pick up some delicious, healthy snacks or meals.