Understanding Nutrition Labels

By: Kim Beavers Email
By: Kim Beavers Email

September 22, 2009

Label claims and advertising make choosing healthy products more complicated than ever. The information on the Nutrition Facts panel is both regulated and factual. The key then is to understand how to use the information on the Facts panel. The information from the nutrition facts panel can be used to evaluate a product and compare between two similar products.

% Daily Values (DV): Shows the amount of each nutrient needed daily to meet the needs of the average person when consuming a 2,000 calorie diet. Even if you eat a diet higher or lower than 2000 calories you can still use the percent daily values to evaluate a food product or compare similar food products. A simple rule called the 5-20 rule is helpful in evaluating food products. If a food has 5% DV or less, it is low in that nutrient. If a food has 20% DV or more, it is high in that nutrient. Aim to choose foods lower in fat, saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Aim to choose foods with a higher percentage DV for fiber, vitamins and minerals.

Ingredient list: Items in the food product are listed by weight in descending order of predominance. The ingredient list is important in identifying food allergens and when trying to evaluate a food product when no percent daily value is available.

When no daily value is available:

  • Sugar: Sugar can be natural or added and that is not separated out on the nutrition facts panel. To see if a food has added sugar you will need to check the ingredient list specifically for sugar, look for words like: sucrose, glucose, fructose, corn or maple syrup etc. When comparing sugar sweetened foods choose the one with the fewest grams of sugar on the nutrition facts panel.

  • Trans fat: Trans fat is actually listed on the nutrition facts panel. However, if a food has 0.5g or less Trans fat it can be listed as “0” Trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2g trans fat a day for adults. All it would take to be over the limit is 4 servings of a “0” trans fat food that contains 0.5g trans fat. Again look to the ingredient list for the words partially hydrogenated. If your food product has this in the label it could have as much as 0.5g Trans fat in each serving. Look for a similar product with not partially hydrogenated oil.

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