Reading food labels

Fix Your Plate by Tara Reeves

Confused by the numbers and words on food labels? You’re certainly not alone! Understanding food labels is a key skill for making healthy choices about what you eat. This information will help you decipher the nutrition facts and make informed decisions about the food you eat.

Think of food labels as tiny instruction manuals on your food. The first step? Serving size. This number reveals exactly how much food the information on the label refers to. It could be a cup, half a package, or even just one piece. Why is this crucial? Because sometimes an entire box might seem like one serving, but the label might be talking about just a small handful. Big difference, right?

All food labels are written in a standard way that clearly outlines the key information in the package. This includes calories, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, and sodium. Calories are units of energy that provide fuel for your body’s essential functions throughout the day. Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are your body’s energy sources, each with a specific job to do. Dietary fiber aids in and promotes regularity in the digestive system. Protein helps build strong muscles and bones, and sodium plays a crucial role in maintaining electrolyte balance within the body.

When it comes to fats, there are a few different kinds in our food and not all of them are created equal. The label will break down total fat into saturated fat, trans fat, and unsaturated fat. Saturated and trans fats should only be consumed in very limited amounts, while unsaturated fats are the good fats that help keep your heart healthy.

Carbohydrates are another important group. Total carbohydrates include starches and sugars. Dietary fiber, a type of carbohydrate, is very helpful for our digestive system. Always be mindful of the sugar content, as excessive consumption of sugars can have negative health consequences. Look out for added sugars, which are sugars put into the food, not the natural ones already there.

Finally, there’s sodium, which is necessary for our body to function, however it can become problematic if too much is consumed. Too much sodium can make your body hold onto extra water, and negatively affect your blood pressure.

So, how do we use this information to make healthy choices? Each nutrient has a Daily Value (DV) listed next to it. This is like a target number that tells you how much of that nutrient you might need in a day (based on an adult’s needs). So, if a food has 10% DV of sodium, it means it has a small amount of sodium, when considering the recommended intake, for the day.

The most important thing is to use this information to choose foods that fit your goals. Want to build strong muscles? Look for foods that are high in protein. Want a steady stream of energy throughout the day? Choose foods with complex carbohydrates and healthy fats.

By using this information, you will be able to understand what you are actually eating and you will be able to make better and more informed choices in the grocery store!