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Nutrition

Get excited about nutrition, and learn as you go with these information-packed resources on a wide variety of nutrition-centric topics! Our bistroMD experts review the importance of the macronutrients protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as how to make them work most efficiently for you.

How to Read and Understand Nutrition Labels

Nutrition labels are powerful tools to help consumers choose foods, though reading them might be confusing. Learn what to look for on nutrition labels to lose weight and reach great health.

How to Read and Understand Nutrition Labels


When navigating through the food aisles, you may have noticed the Nutrition Facts label got a recent update in 2020. This is the first update in 20 years, by the way!

Food labels can help consumers make informed decisions about what they choose to eat. This may be selecting a low-salt option to control high blood pressure or a high-fiber choice to manage weight.

Below guides on what to look for on nutritional labels when losing weight or simply eating healthier. Also, find notes on the recent changes to the panel information consumers may notice.

Serving Information

The serving size and number of servings per container are key focal points for reading labels for healthy eating and weight loss.

Serving size information is found at the top of the nutrition label. Some nutrition labels now show nutrition information for one serving on the left, and the info for the whole container to the right.

Serving information is also helpful to lose weight, especially comparing portion sizes (the amount actually consumed) to the serving size listed. One might be doubling or tripling caloric intake without realizing it, subsequently hindering weight loss efforts.

Calorie Content

Though calories and calorie counting are not the only mainstays of weight loss, they do play a large role in efforts. Calories are important to identify and consider, as too many of them can lead to weight gain.

Along with identifying the number of calories in a single serving size, consider whether or not the calories are coming from a nutritional source. This might include whole grains, fresh produce, and lean proteins.

Calories per serving are now in a bold, large font. This makes calories easy to look for when reading food labels for weight loss or healthy eating.

Nutrients

The following nutrients are shown on the Nutrition Facts label:

• Total Fat
- Saturated Fat
- Trans Fat
• Cholesterol
• Sodium
• Total Carbohydrates
- Fiber
- Total Sugar
- Includes added sugar
• Protein
• Vitamin D
• Calcium
• Iron
• Potassium

On the left-hand side of the label are the grams, milligrams or microgram amounts a serving of the food provides. On the right-hand side of the label is the percent Daily Value the food serving provides for each nutrient.

Added sugars, vitamin D, and potassium are new nutrients that are now listed on nutrition labels. The added sugars amount seen on labels is helpful to know for reading food labels for healthy eating. Those wanting to eat healthy and/or lose weight will want to limit the amount of added sugar in the diet.

Consuming sugar in excess increases the risk of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. Startlingly, the American Heart Association (AHA) estimates Americans consume an average of 80 grams of sugar per day, while the AHA encourages reducing intake to more than 38 and 25 grams of sugar per day for men and women, respectively.

A general rule of thumb for healthy eating is to eat mostly foods that are higher in fiber, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and iron. Limit foods that are higher in saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.

Dietary Fiber

The daily recommendation for dietary fiber is 38 and 25 grams for men and women, respectively. Getting adequate fiber can lead to a number of health benefits, including:

• Improved bowel health
• Blood sugar control
• Heart disease protection
• Weight management

Foods naturally high in fiber include fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts/seeds, and whole grains. Look for food labels with at least three to five grams of fiber per serving to ensure meeting daily fiber recommendations. This especially serves true if purchasing bread, cereal, or other grains.

Percent Daily Values

The percent Daily Value (%DV) provides nutrient information for how much the particular food provides to the daily diet, or a 2,000 calorie diet. Looking at the %DV can help make wise food choices regarding fat, protein, carb, fiber, sodium, and vitamins and minerals.

Healthcare professionals encourage selecting products with high intakes (20 percent or greater) of fiber, vitamins, and minerals and straying away from foods without any significant DVs. Products lacking DVs tend to supply empty calories and lack nutritional value.

There is a footnote at the bottom of the label explaining what the %DV means.

Ingredients

Though the Nutrition Facts label is extremely valuable, remember ingredients also matter when it comes to healthy food and health. The ingredient list is also valuable in identifying ingredients one may be sensitive, allergic, or intolerant to such as shellfish, sugar substitutes, and wheat.

When reading an ingredient list, the largest amount of the ingredients will be listed first. The smallest ingredient amounts will be towards the bottom.

Most nutrition experts recommend the rule of five, meaning choosing food products with less than five ingredients. Also, opt-outƒ or limit foods with unfamiliar ingredients.

Following these simple rules are foolproof ways to promote less processed and more wholesome foods within the diet, setting the stage for weight loss success!

Reference:

What's New with the Nutrition Facts Label. https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/whats-new-nutrition-facts-label.

Sarah Asay's Photo
Written By Sarah Asay, RDN. Published on December 04, 2020. Updated on December 14, 2020.

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