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How to Read Food Labels for Healthy Eating

How to Read Food Labels for Healthy Eating

Being able to know how to read food labels for healthy eating is important, especially as you learn how to nourish yourself with more nutritious food. This is not only helpful for those on a diet, but for anyone who wants to know more about what they put into their body.

And despite being very important, food labels are somewhat confusing, especially if you do not know what to look for. Here’s a simple guide to help you understand food labels.

How to Read Food Labels for Healthy Eating

Before we dive into how to read food labels for healthy eating, let us first talk about what food labels are. Food labels or “nutrition facts” give you information about what is inside the food or product that you are buying. This can let you know the nutrients that a product has, and the equivalent number of calories for each serving.

This is great for people trying to lose weight since they can compute exactly how many calories they are taking in. But for those not on a diet, knowing how to read food labels for healthy eating can help you make more informed decisions about what you eat.

Here’s what you need to know about how to read food labels for healthy eating:

Look at the serving size

The very first thing you see when you look at a food label is the serving size. It should show you how many servings the product has, and how big each serving is. This number is very important since the rest of the information on the food label is based on a single serving of this product.

For example, you might think that a 240-gram pack of chips is just a single serving. After all, it is just a pack of chips right? But if you check the nutrition facts, it may say that there are 8 servings in a pack. This means that one serving of chips should only be about 30 grams.

This is especially helpful when it comes to understanding reduced fat or reduced sodium products. If you do not check the serving size, you may think that the amount of fat or sodium shown is for the entire pack.

Now, it is important to note that the serving size is not necessarily the “recommended” or “healthy” amount to consume. You should definitely have less than one serving when it comes to unhealthy foods such as sugary drinks or snacks like chips.

Check the number of calories

Next up on how to read food labels for healthy eating, one should consider be the number of calories that the product has. The number of calories you see on a food label is based on just a single serving of the food, and not for the entire pack. This is especially useful if you are counting the calories you are taking in when trying to lose weight.

One example would be when it comes to drinks, such as soda. A 2-liter bottle of soda usually has 6 servings of about 360 ml each, with each serving having about 140 calories.

Percent Daily Values is based on a 2000 calorie diet

The nutrition facts on a food label are by no means a diet guide, nor is it a guide for people to lose weight. This is because the numbers you see are based on a 2000 calorie diet, and some people might eat more or less than 2,000 calories in a day.

If you are trying to lose weight and lowering your calorie intake, then you may need to adjust your consumption depending on how many calories you are eating. Likewise, if you are trying to gain weight, then you may need to up your intake of certain foods to get more nutrients.

The percent daily values are more of a guide to let you know how much of each type of nutrient is in the food you are eating. Ideally, if you want to eat less of a certain nutrient, such as fat or sodium, you need to eat foods with 5% or less daily values. If you need more of a nutrient, you need to look for food with about 20% or higher daily values.

Take note of the total fat

Contrary to what most people think, fat is not actually bad for your health. Your body needs at least a certain amount of fat in order to maintain normal body functions.

The problem lies in eating a lot of foods that are high in fat. Which is why it is important to take note of how much fat is in a certain product, so you can control how much fat you are taking in.

Another thing to look at is if the product contains any trans fats. Trans fats should be avoided, since these types of fat can increase your risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems.

For other types of fat such as unsaturated or saturated fat, these should be consumed in small amounts.

Be mindful of the sodium content

Another thing to take note of when it comes to how to read food labels for healthy eating is how much sodium is in the food. Foods such as chips and canned goods have a lot of sodium, and just like fats, should be eaten only in moderation.

Ideally, the food you eat should have a percent daily value of 5% or lower for sodium. This helps ensure that you are not consuming too much sodium, which can cause heart problems.

Check how much sugar is written on the label

Just like fats and sodium, sugar is another nutrient that you need to eat less of. Some foods, such as fruit drinks are naturally sweet, so they tend to have a higher amount of sugar. However, you might notice that some juice drinks have what’s called “added sugars” on the label.

Added sugars means that additional sugar was added to make the drink sweeter. Food and drink with added sugar should be avoided as much as possible, since these tend to have a very high amount of sugars, and can be very unhealthy.

Take note of the vitamins and other nutrients

Lastly, you need to check the vitamins and nutrients on the label. This helps give you a rough idea of what nutrients you are taking in when you eat certain foods. This is an important tip in the discussion about how to read food labels for healthy eating.

This is especially helpful if you are trying to up your intake of specific vitamins and minerals. In particular, nutrients such as vitamins A, B12, C, D, E, fiber, calcium, choline, magnesium, potassium, and iron are essential for your health. Try to look for foods with these specific nutrients in mind.

With these tips, you’ve learned how to read food labels for healthy eating. You should now be empowered to make healthier choices when it comes to the food you eat.

Learn more about Healthy Eating here.

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Sources

How to read food labels: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000107.htm, Accessed July 7 2020

The Basics of the Nutrition Facts Label, https://www.eatright.org/food/nutrition/nutrition-facts-and-food-labels/the-basics-of-the-nutrition-facts-label, Accessed July 7 2020

Understanding Food Nutrition Labels | American Heart Association, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/understanding-food-nutrition-labels, Accessed July 7 2020

Reading Food Labels | National Institute on Aging, https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/reading-food-labels, Accessed July 7 2020

How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label | FDA, https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/how-understand-and-use-nutrition-facts-label, Accessed July 7 2020

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Written by Jan Alwyn Batara Updated 3 weeks ago
Medically reviewed by John Paul Ferolino Abrina, M.D.
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