What Are Food Labels & How To Read Them

Food labels will give you information about the elements of the food and can help you to decide what to choose as part of an overall healthy eating plan.

Food labels provide information about nutrition facts. They also tell you what’s in a packaged food (i.e., the ingredients). Some food labels also state which country the food came from, whether the food is organic, and certain health claims.

Information that are given in a label:

Reading food labels seem to be the most effective way to understand the amount and kinds of nutrients that are provided in the item. It lets you make sensible food selections.

The following information will help you to read a food label.

Serving size: The amount of servings stated in the food label refers to the quantity of food people usually consume. It determines the amount of nutrients that enters the body. This means that if you will follow strictly what the serving size is, you will obtain the same amount of nutrients according to the serving size that was given in the label.

Calories, Calories from Fat and Percent Daily Values: This part of a food label provides the calories serving and the calories that come from fat. If you need to know the total number of calories you eat every day or the number of calories that come from fat, this section provides that information. Remember that this part of the label doesn’t tell you whether you are eating saturated or unsaturated fat.

On the right side of a food label, you’ll see a column that lists percentages. These percentages refer to the percent daily values (%DV). Percent daily values tell you how much of something, whether it’s fat, sugar or vitamin A, one serving will give you compared to how much you need for the entire day. It will help you gauge the percentage of a nutrient requirement met by one serving of the product. One way to use this section of the label is when you comparison shop.

Fat, Sugar, Sodium and Carbohydrate: This section of a food label shows the name of a nutrient and the amount of that nutrient provided by one serving of food. You may need to know this information, especially if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or are eating a diet that restricts certain nutrients such as sodium or carbohydrates.

Food labels also include information about how much sugar and protein is in the food. If you are following a low-sugar diet or you’re monitoring your protein intake, it’s easy to spot how much of those nutrients are contained in one serving.

Vitamins, Minerals and Other Information:

The light purple part of the label lists nutrients, vitamins and minerals in the food and their percent daily values. Try to average 100% DV every day for vitamins A and C, calcium, iron and fiber. Do the opposite with fat, saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol. Try to eat less than 100% DV of these.

Reading Label Lingo:

In a food label following terms are used to indicate the contents of the food. To read a label you have to know about the phrases. They are-

1. ‘Low in calories’ means that the food can be eaten frequently without going beyond guidelines for a good diet.

2. No calories or calorie free – Contains less than 5 calories per serving.

3. ‘Low in sodium’ means less than 140mg. a serving.

4. ‘Reduced’ means the product has at least 25 percent fewer calories of an ingredient than the regular product.

5. ‘Good source’ means one serving has 10 to 19 percent of Daily Value for that nutrient.

6. ‘Low fat’ means the product contains no more than 3 grams of fat per serving.

7. ‘Lite’ means that the food contains at least 50 percent less fat than the food it’s being compared with.

8. ‘Fresh’ means that the food cannot have been frozen, processed, heated or chemically preserved.

9. ‘Organic’ means foods that have been prepared to a certain production standard. They have been grown without the use of conventional pesticides, artificial fertilizers, or sewage sludge. They have also not been processed without ionizing radiation or food additives.

10. No preservatives – Contains no preservatives (chemical or natural).

11. Sugar free – Contains less than 1/2 gram of sugar per serving.

12. Reduced sugar – at least 25% less sugar per serving than the reference food.

13. No preservatives added – Contains no added chemicals to preserve the product. Some of these products may contain natural preservatives.

14. No salt or salt free – Contains less than 5 mgs of sodium per serving.

15. High fiber – 5 g or more per serving.

16. Good source of fiber – 2.5 g to 4.9 g. per serving.

17. More or added fiber – Contains at least 2.5 g more per serving than the reference food.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Reading a Food Label:

Until you become accustomed to reading food labels, it’s easy to become confused. Avoid these common mistakes when reading labels:

A label may say that the food is reduced fat or reduced sodium. That means that the amount of fat or sodium has been reduced by 25% from the original product. It doesn’t mean, however, that the food is low in fat or sodium. For example, if a can of soup originally had 1,000 milligrams of sodium, the reduced sodium product would still be a high-sodium food.

Don’t confuse the % DV for fat with the percentage of calories from fat. If the 15% that 15% doesn’t mean that 15% of the calories come from fat.

Rather, it means that you’re using up 15% of all the fat you need for a day with one serving (based on a meal plan of 2,000 calories per day).

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that the amount of sugar on a label means that the sugar has been added. For example, milk naturally has sugar, which is called lactose. But that doesn’t mean you should stop drinking milk because milk is full of other important nutrients including calcium.

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