How to ‘Digest’ Information on Food Labels

Posted by | Posted in Expert Tips, Memorial Medical Center, Nutrition | Posted on 03-05-2013

Nutrition Facts LabelMarch is National Nutrition Month, and Memorial Medical Center’s registered dietitians are sharing tips and recipes throughout the month that focus on this year’s theme, “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day.”

One of the best ways to be sure you are eating nutritiously is to “shop smart” by reading food labels. The Nutrition Facts panel found on most food labels will help you:

  • Find out which foods are good sources of fiber, calcium, iron and vitamin C;
  • Compare similar foods to find out which is lower in fat and calories;
  • Search for low-sodium foods;
  • Look for foods that are low in saturated fat and trans fat.

When reading a food label, start with the serving size. Some foods may look like they are packaged for a single serving but actually are deceptively labeled for two or more servings. A good example is a microwave-ready soup canister. It looks like it is for one serving, but it is labeled for two 1-cup servings. To get the best idea of what you will be consuming and how much you should consume, determine both the calories and grams of fat for a single serving.

The percent daily values (DV) listed on a label can help you evaluate how the food fits into your daily meal plan. The DVs are based on 2,000 calories a day. A good rule of thumb for using the DV list is:

  • 5 percent or less is low; try to aim low in total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium
  • 20 percent or more is high; try to aim high in vitamins, minerals and fiber

And finally, check the ingredient list. Food with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. 

In addition to the food label, an item’s packaging also might advertise various aspects of the food’s nutritional value on the front of the packaging. For the packaging to make these health claims, they must adhere to the following guidelines:

  •  Low calorie: less than 40 calories per serving
  • Low cholesterol: less than 20mg of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
  • Reduced: 25-percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product
  • Good source of: provides at least 10 percent of the daily value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving
  • Fat free/sugar free: less than ½ gram of fat or sugar per serving
  • Low sodium: less than 140mg of sodium per serving
  • High in: provides 20 percent or more of the DV of a specified nutrient per serving
  • High fiber: 5 or more grams of fiber per serving

 Information compiled by Gayle Jennings, RD, a registered dietitian at Memorial Medical Center.

Enjoy LiveWell Online Magazine? Stay up-to-date with a free email subscription!