Eat Healthy – Nutritional Labels – How to Read, Analyze and Understand – Part 1

The first step in ensuring that your family and you maintain a healthy way of eating is to be able to read, analyze and most importantly, to understand the nutritional labels on the food products you purchase. Reading and analyzing nutritional labels might be a hassle and an embarrassment (for some) when you have to do it in a supermarket at the beginning but, once you’re use to it…believe me it’s not as bad as it sounds!!I will be referring to the sample nutritional label of Macaroni & Cheese (courtesy of US FDA) throughout this article thus it might be easier if you could print out the word document prior reading further.1) SERVING SIZE AND SERVING PER PACKAGEThis is the top most section of a nutritional label, and is the first thing you’ll have to look at to understand the label. It’s important to know the difference between Serving Size and Serving Per Package.Serving Size is a standard measurement. It is always presented in familiar units such as in cups, pieces, bottles and etc followed by the relevant metric values such as grams, milligrams, litres and etc.On the other hand, Serving Per Package refers to the specific’s food content in terms of the Serving Size…is it 2 times the Serving Size or 4 times the Serving Size? Well, let’s look at the nutritional label above. This is a sample label of a Macaroni & Cheese Frozen Food package. Now…it says that the Serving Size is 1 cup (228g). And the Serving Per Package is 2 times the Serving Size. So…what does this mean? It tells us that the whole Macaroni & Cheese package is 2 times the Serving Size i.e the package if actually 2 cups or 456g (228g x 2) in weight.The nutritional information and the amount of calories presented in Sections 2,3 and 4 of the nutrition label (refer to the above label) are based on the Serving Size of 1 cup or 228g of Macaroni & Cheese. Therefore, if you were to consume the entire pack of this Macaroni & Cheese….you’ll be consuming twice the calories and nutrients displayed in the label.Serving Size is essential when you compare different foods. For example…let’s say there was another frozen food package Chicken Pie, and you’re in the midst of deciding which would be a healthier choice for dinner…you’ll have to use the Serving Size as your comparison basis. Compare the calories and nutrients of 1 cup of Macaroni & Cheese with the calories and nutrients in 1 cup of Chicken Pie!! If the Chicken Pie contains more nutrients and less calories per cup than the Macaroni & Cheese…then it’s obvious that you should purchase the Chicken Pie.2) CALORIES AND CALORIES FROM FATSection 2 of the nutritional label displays the Calories Information of ONE Serving Size of the food. This tells you how much of energy will you obtain from the consumption of one serving of the food.Calories from fat tells the portion of calories which is contributed by fat. For example, from ONE cup (228g) of Macaroni & Cheese…you’ll obtain 250 calories. And of that, 110 calories are contributed by fat. Can you imagine that? Almost half the calories are from fat…and that’s only if you consume 1 cup of Macaroni & Cheese. If you ate the whole package i.e 2 cups of Macaroni & Cheese…you’ll be putting 220 calories from fat into your system!!3 & 4) AMOUNT OF NUTRIENTSSection 3 and 4 of the nutritional label displays the nutrient information. Section 3(yellow coloured) shows the types of nutrient which should be consumed in moderate, while the nutrients listed in Section 4 displays the nutrients that should be consumed in abundance.Generally, we take in the nutrients in Section 3 beyond what our body needs and consume very little nutrients in Section 4. This may cause heart diseases, malnutritions and etc.We’ll talk about the recommended intake of each nutrient and its effect on the body in another article. For now…let’s just try to learn the nutritional label first…According to the above label…1 cup (228g) of Macaroni & Cheese contains 12g of total fat, 3g of trans fat, 30mg of cholesterol and 470mg of sodium. If you ate the entire pack, you would have taken twice these amounts…i.e 24g of total fat, 6g of trans fat, 60mg of cholesterol and 940mg of sodium.As you can see, the values of the nutrients displayed in Section 4 are not in metric values but are in percentage of the daily value. Therefore to analyse the metrical value of these nutrients, you will need to first familiarize yourself with the meaning and impact of daily values.5) FOOTNOTEThe asterisk (*) beside the Daily Value in the nutritional label brings us to the footnote. Well, the footnote basically exist to inform you that the Daily Values (in percentages) beside the nutrients displayed in Section 3 and 4, are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This statement (highlighted in yellow) appears in all food products and is the same for any kind of food. According to research, most of us are only required to consume 2,000 calories a day!!However, you’ll not find the amounts circled in red in all nutritional labels…they are commonly omitted from small nutritional labels. These are the Daily Values (DV) for each nutrient listed and are based on the public health experts’ advice. Daily Values are the recommended levels of nutrients intakes on a daily basis. We’ll discuss more on the recommended level of nutrients in the next article.For example, it says that the DV of sodium for a 2,000 calorie diet is 2,400mg. This basically means that you are only recommended to consume 2,400mg of sodium in a day. And this is equivalent to one teaspoon of salt!! I’m sure that’s a shock!!The DVs of those who need more calories a day…such as construction workers, tractor drivers and etc..will however be higher.6) DAILY VALUES AND %DAILY VALUEHow does daily values and %daily values relate to each other? Well…based on the above nutritional label, the recommended daily value of nutrients are equivalent to 100% daily value. Let’s take the Daily Value of total fat for instance. It says that the DV of total fat is 65g, making 65g the 100% of total fat that you can consume a day.Now…look at the DV (%) displayed beside each of the nutrients in Section 3 & 4…and search for the total fat nutrient. What do you see? One cup of Macaroni & Cheese contains 12g of total fat…which if described in a percentage…would be 18% (12g/65g x 100%). That’s how you obtain the DV(%) of 18% for total fat.Let’s try another nutrient…cholesterol. The recommended DV for cholesterol is 300mg. Now look at how much of cholesterol will you consume if you ate one cup of Macaroni & Cheese…30mg…thus when this is described in percentage…it would be 10% (30mg/300mg x 100%). Voila!!Now…how do you analyse the daily value and daily value(%) when deciding your purchase?Simple…since you are informed that the recommended amount of total fat to be consumed in a day is limited to 65g…try not to exceed this amount!! If you consumed one cup of Macaroni & Cheese…you would have taken 18% of the daily total fat, leaving you with only 82% to consume. That’s about 53g of fat which you would easily exceed through consuming other fried foods, rice, pasta and desserts!!It’s even worse when you eat the whole package of Macaroni & Cheese…you’ll be consuming twice the total fat…i.e 36% of your daily total fat limit, which only leaves a room of 64%.These information allows you to plan your meals in a healthier way. If you decide to enjoy something fatty for lunch, you can decide to eat low fat food during your dinner to stay within the total fat daily value. You don’t need to let go off your favorite foods to be healthy!!We’ll exercise reading and understanding nutritional labels in the next article. Together with that I’ll discuss about the importance of knowing the ingredients of the food products. Please feel free to comment on my articles at my blog.

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