Reading nutritional facts labels can be quite a challenge, as they are often written cryptically to deceive us into believing we are eating less than we actually are. Knowing how to read these can help us avoid consuming unhealthy substances, trans-fats and excessive calories that are detrimental to our health.
The nutritional facts label can be broken down into 4 main parts that, with practice, become actually easy to read.
1. Serving Size vs. Servings Per Container
Nutritional labels contain two numbers: serving size and servings per container. Serving size is the amount of the food per serving, and this is how the nutritional facts are calculated. By eating exactly the serving size, your body will intake what is written on the box. If you wish to eat more than one serving, however, you’ll need to do some math.
2. What You’re Eating
Nutrition facts labels always display the calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates and proteins. Next to these will be a number in grams and a percentage. The grams indicate the total number of grams per serving. The percent is the daily value per serving. To figure out the total number of grams or daily percent for the entire container, multiply these values by the servings per container. Sometimes this will be already calculated and placed on the box, but the numbers directly to the right of the item will always be per serving.
3. Vitamins & Minerals
The next section is the vitamins and minerals in the food. These are calculated by percent of daily value per serving.
The ingredients used to make the food are usually listed directly under the nutrition information. They are ordered by prominence, and the first ingredient is the most prevalent. The last ingredients are usually flavoring or food colorings, and the food contains the least amount of these.
Other Terms and Definitions
Be careful when considering the terms a product is using. Sometimes “light” or “lite” will refer to the color and not the content. “Light” may also indicate that the fat content is up to one half the fat content or one-third less calories of comparison brands.
Likewise, anything that is “free” means less than .5 grams per serving. A food that is sugar-free and fat-free may have up to a half gram per serving. The same is true for trans-fat free foods; these may also have up to half a gram of undisclosed trans fats per serving, not per container.
The only noticeable exception to this rule is calorie-free foods. They may have up to five grams and still be considered calorie-free. However, this mostly applies to water and gum.
Though food companies may post the information visibly, it may not always be clear exactly what you are eating. It is important to learn how to read a nutritional facts label in order to avoid unhealthy substances that are dangerous to your health.