We know never to trust a front-cover label on food or drink items, but sometimes deciphering nutrition charts on every product you place in your shopping cart can be overwhelming. Understanding and paying attention to nutrition labels is important for losing weight and staying healthy. Here is what to look out for on the back of the box when you next go grocery shopping.
Start With any Front Labels
- Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus. This means nutrients such as minerals and fiber have been removed and vitamins added in processing. Look for 100% whole-wheat bread, and high-fiber, low-sugar cereals.
- Fruit drink. This means there’s probably little or no real fruit and a lot of sugar. Instead look for products that say “100% Fruit Juice.”
- Made with wheat, rye, or multigrains. These products have very little whole grain. Look for the word “whole” before the grain to ensure that you’re getting a 100% whole-grain product.
- Natural. The manufacturer started with a natural source, but once it’s processed the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for “100% All Natural” and “No Preservatives.”
- Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients. Trust only labels that say “Certified Organically Grown.”
- Sugar-free or fat-free. Don’t assume the product is low-calorie. The manufacturer compensated with unhealthy ingredients that don’t taste very good and, here’s the kicker, have no fewer calories than the real thing.
Look at the Serving Size
- Start your label reading adventure by looking at the “serving size” printed right under “nutrition facts.”
- Beware of suggested serving sizes with fractions. For example, the label on a 6-ounce can of StarKist Tuna in water says one serving is 2 ounces (drained) so you might think the can holds three servings. But because you drain off some weight, the can actually contains 2.5 servings.
Calories and Calories From Fat
- Note how many calories are in a serving and how many of those calories come from fat. Do the math if you eat less or more.
Nutrients by Weight and Percentage of Daily Value (%DV)
- This part of the label shows how much of each nutrient is in a single serving by weight in grams and by %DV based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
- Fats are listed as “Total Fat” and are broken down into saturated fat.
- It does not distinguish between natural sugars, such as those found in fruit, and added sugar.
- The U. S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition says the first nutrients listed on the label –total fat, cholesterol, and sodium — are the ones most Americans get enough of or too much of in their diets.
Vitamins and Minerals
- Vitamins and minerals are listed by %DV only.
- Pay particular attention to vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The FDA says most Americans are deficient in these.
- Ingredients are listed in order from the greatest amount to the least.
- Usually, the fewer the ingredients, the better.
- Go straight to the back and look at %DV, which is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
- According to the FDA, you should look for nutrients you want, such as fiber, to represent 20%DV or more, and nutrients you should limit, such as fat, to represent 5% or less.
- Next look at serving size and portion accordingly. For instance, if you’ll eat twice that amount, then double the %DV numbers, or if you’ll eat half the amount, then halve the %DV numbers.