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Healthy Living
March 14, 2024

Tips for Navigating Food Labels

How closely do you pay attention to food labels while grocery shopping? Despite being a helpful tool, many Americans need help identifying healthy options and deciphering what nutrition information really means. Knowing how to read this information properly is important, including essential details about what’s in products, such as ingredients, calories, and serving sizes. Check out the following tips for navigating food labels to help you make healthy and informed choices in celebration of National Nutrition Month.

Serving Size Secrets

The first section of the label shows serving information and calorie count. Serving sizes help you track calories and nutrients but can often be misleading. It’s important to know a serving size is not a recommended portion but reflects what people typically consume in a sitting.

Servings are shown in familiar measurements like cups or ounces, helping you visualize a portion. These are also shown in metric measurements like grams (g), making it easier to compare products. You can use the number of servings to gauge how much food a product will produce when planning meals or feeding guests. Quickly referencing serving sizes, servings per container and calorie count is an easy way to better understand how much food you buy and what’s in it. You just have to know what to look for on the label!

Remember that nutrition facts are counted per serving, not the entire product. If you’re tracking nutrients or counting calories, pay special attention to the label’s servings per container. A candy bar could read 100 calories per serving, but take a closer look, and you might find it has three servings. This detail also comes into play when understanding the nutrients on a food label.

Nutrient Knowledge

The section below Calories and Serving Sizes provides nutritional information, listing key nutrients that impact your well-being, like fats, carbohydrates and proteins. These are called macronutrients, and our bodies need them to produce energy and stay healthy. Paying attention to these can help you consume a balanced diet and be sure your body meets its nutritional needs.

Fats are fuel for the body, but too much or the wrong kind can lead to imbalances. Food labels list the total amount of fats and the different types.

  • Total Fat: the overall amount of fat in grams per serving
  • Saturated Fat: solid at room temperature and found in animal-based foods
  • Unsaturated Fat: liquid at room temperature and is better for your overall health
  • Trans Fat: oils are turned into fat and are commonly found in processed foods

Both saturated and trans fats are considered bad fats, as high amounts can increase cholesterol and lead to heart disease. Unsaturated fats are beneficial because they boost good cholesterol and help the body absorb vitamins. Common foods high in unsaturated fats include nuts, avocados and types of fish.

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are the body’s main energy source. Carbs come in many forms, including sugar and fiber. A food label will show both Total Carbohydrates and a breakdown between types. Sugar, which shows Total Sugars and any Added Sugar, is used for energy. Fiber helps regulate sugar in our body. For a healthier diet, look to fiber-rich foods with minimal added sugars.

Proteins are important for growth, body function and internal maintenance. We need protein for energy and immune support. You can use nutrition labels to track Protein per serving and ensure you select protein-rich foods. Meat, fish and certain vegetables are all common sources of protein.

When tracking nutrients or comparing items, be sure to use the column labeled % Daily Value (% DV). This displays how much a serving of food contributes to your daily nutrient intake. For example, one serving of potato chips could include 10% of the recommended daily sodium intake. Typically, this is based on a 2,000-calorie diet, and everyone’s body is different, but the % DV is a helpful reference to use as a guide.

Helpful Health Tips

The nutrient information section also shows how much Sodium and Cholesterol are in food and beverages. Although they both play a role in the body, excessive amounts of either can have negative effects. Too much sodium is known to cause high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Use food labels to identify and avoid foods with large amounts of sodium or cholesterol to maintain balanced levels.

Sugar, like cholesterol and sodium, plays a vital role in the body, but too much can be unhealthy. Avoiding added sugars will help, but foods can contain hidden sugars which don’t always appear on the label. Many labels will hide added sugar with different names, and products that seem natural, like fruit juices, can contain high concentrations of added sugar. To avoid excessive sugar intake, read food labels closely and look for words like syrup, fructose or sweetener. Cereals, condiments and beverages like soda and juice are also common products containing hidden sugars.

Understanding serving sizes and macronutrients is a helpful guideline for managing a well-balanced diet. It’s important to pay attention to Serving Sizes and Calories, as well as the types of Fats and Carbohydrates in food. Watch out for hidden sugars, and limit foods high in Sodium and Cholesterol.

National Nutrition Month is the perfect time to learn about navigating food labels. These tips can help you prioritize your nutrition and take control of your well-being. Now that you know how to interpret a food label, practice reading with a bottle of Absopure All Natural Spring Water or Absopure Plus Electrolyte Water (Hint: With zero calories and no hidden sugars or added fats, Absopure labels are simple and easy to understand)!