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Nutrition Food Labels - How to Read and Understand the Facts

Dec 11, 2007
Every food item you buy must list the nutritional food facts somewhere on its label. The trouble is, most of us have no idea how to read them. Sure, the label may say the food we've chosen has 10g of sodium, but what does that really mean? Let's take a look at some common nutrition food facts to find out.

Nutrition food labels clearly outline the nutrients found in foods using grams (g) or milligrams (mg). Milligrams are very small. As a matter of fact, you could fit 1,000 milligrams in a single gram.

In addition to listing the grams of nutrients found in the foods we eat, nutritional fact labels also give the daily percentage of that nutrient a single serving of that food includes. Keep in mind that these percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet, so if you are eating less than that the percentages would actually be higher.

Now, let's take a closer look at individual nutrition facts listed on most food labels:

Serving Size:
Serving size is the amount of food being detailed within the nutrition label. It is very important to always check the serving size since one package or container may contain several serving sizes, so if you eat the entire thing the nutritional facts need to be multiplied accordingly.

Calories and Calories From Fat:
The number of calories in a single tells you the amount of energy that is found in that particular food. While the number of calories is important, the calories from fat is even more important since they will be harder for your body to burn.

Percent Daily Value:
A daily allowance is the percentage of food/nutrient you should consumer in a day. So, if you eat a food with 445% of your daily allowance of sodium, you must be careful not eat more items with high sodium content for the rest of the day. Staying within these limits ensures that you are getting just the right amount of each nutrient every day ofr optimal health.

Total Fat:
Everyone needs to eat a certain amount of fat to remain healthy and strong - but eat too much and you'll become sluggish, depressed and unhealthy. Food labels list several different kinds of fat for better regulation: saturated, unsaturated, and trans fat.

Cholesterol and Sodium:
Cholesterol and sodium (salt) are usually measured in milligrams and are featured on food labels for those people who must restrict their intake of these nutrients.

Total Carbohydrate:
You need carbohydrates for energy. But too many can make you fat and cause other health concerns. Carbohydrate levels are usually broken down into grams of sugar and grams of dietary fiber on most food labels.

Protein:
Protein helps the human body build and repair essential parts of the body, such as muscles, blood, and organs. It is usually measured in grams.

Vitamin A and Vitamin C:
These list the amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, with each amount given as a percent daily value.

Calcium and Iron:
Calcium and iron are essential for a healthy body. These minerals are usually listed as daily percentages per serving.

Now that you can understand your food labels better, start checking out what you're eating and how much of a good thing (or not so good thing) you're getting with each meal and snack.
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