Never Underestimate the Power of Labels

by Staff

ByArcher Eller, R.D.Guest Contributor

Food producers are required by law to put labels on their productsthat tell consumers about the nutritional breakdown of the food.These “nutrition facts” are supposed to help us choose products thatfit into our lifestyles.

Being able to correctly decipher the information reported on foodlabels is essential for people with diabetes, heart disease, renalfailure and those who want to lose weight or eat healthy.

Although nutrition facts labels were designed by healthprofessionals to be easy to read, they can still be quite confusing.Looking at each nutrition fact individually allows us to comparedifferent foods and better understand how a product may fit into ourdiet.

Serving size: The serving size tells us the amount of theparticular product that Americans usually eat, expressed in commonhousehold measurements. It is essential to be aware of a product’sserving size because all other information refers to what you willingest if you eat one “serving.”

Servings per container: The amount of servings you can expect toget out of a package/container if you follow the reported servingsize.

Calories: The amount of total kilocalories from carbohydrates, fatand protein in one serving.

Calories from fat: The amount of kilocalories only from the fat inthe food. To figure out the percentage of fat contained in the food,divide the calories from fat by the total calories and multiply by100.

This percentage is very important in determining if a product isheart healthy. The American Heart Association recommends that no morethan 30 percent of total calories come from fat. But remember thatthis applies to total calories. So if a food has more than 30 percentof its calories from fat, it may still fit into a heart healthy dietif balanced with other, low-fat foods.

Percentage of daily value: This value probably causes the mostconfusion when people read food labels. It shows how the nutrients inone serving of a food fit into a 2,000 kilocalorie diet.

The percentages for total fat, saturated fat and totalcarbohydrates only apply to those who require 2,000 kilocalories perday. So these percentages should be ignored if you eat more or lessthan 2,000 kilocalories. However, recommendations for cholesterol,sodium, dietary fiber and vitamins and minerals are similarregardless of calorie needs.

Total fat: This tells us how many total grams of fat are in oneserving. Fat has nine kilocalories per gram. Multiplying the grams offat by 9 should be the same as the “calories from fat.”

Saturated fat: Diets high in saturated fat have been shown toincrease cholesterol, and therefore, increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. It is important that a food does not have too muchsaturated fat.

Less than one gram of saturated fat per serving is considered alow-saturated-fat food. Again, foods with higher amounts of saturatedfat per serving can fit into a healthy diet if they are eaten inmoderation and balanced with low-fat choices.

Cholesterol: The American Heart Association recommends thathealthy diets include no more than 300 mg of cholesterol per day.

Sodium: High sodium intake may increase the risk of developinghypertension. It can also cause dehydration since the body attemptsto flush excess sodium out with water. For general health, intake ofsodium should be limited to less than 2,500 mg per day.

Total carbohydrates: This refers to the amount of grams ofcarbohydrates in one serving. This measure is especially important topeople with diabetes who need to limit the amount of carbohydratesthey eat and high endurance athletes who require more carbohydratesthan the general public to support their activity levels.

Dietary fiber: Intakes of 25 to 35 grams per day may decrease therisk of certain cancers and maintain digestive health.

Sugar and protein: Each gives the amount in grams that is in oneserving. Multiply the grams by four to find out the caloriescontributed to that total by each.

Vitamin and mineral content are expressed in percentages of totalneed for the day.

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