Your Guide to Understanding Nutrition Labels

Understanding Nutrition Labels

Nutrition labels can help us identify nutrient-dense foods and make healthier eating choices. Unfortunately, many people get confused by the way some manufacturers label their food and beverage products. Here’s your guide to understanding nutrition labels so you can make wiser choices about what you put in your body.

Begin with the serving size and calorie information.

This is where you can determine the size of one serving, along with the number of servings per container. Bear in mind that manufacturers often adjust serving size to make products look like they have fewer calories than they actually do. If you end up eating two servings of a food item, you will be doubling the number of calories, servings and nutrients, so pay special attention to what you actually eat in relation to the serving size listed on the label.

Limit specific nutrients.

When assessing the nutrient content of a food item, it’s important to understand what you are looking at. Not every type of fat is bad, and total sugars can include both added and natural sugars. Ideally, you should limit your consumption of saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and sodium. When deciding between different brands of similar products, compare labels to see which ones have the highest quantities of undesirable nutrients.

Look for healthy nutrients.

Our bodies need specific vitamins and minerals to function. Look at nutrition labels to make sure you are eating products that contain good amounts of dietary fiber, calcium, iron, choline, potassium, magnesium and vitamins A, D, C and E.

Understand daily values.

Nutrition labels are required to show a % Daily Value (DV) which tells you the percentage of every nutrient in one serving, as it relates to the daily recommended amount. The US Food and Nutrition Board, National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine provide recommendations on how much of every nutrient Americans need to stay healthy. That said, some people may need to consume more or less depending on their individual needs. If you want to eat or drink less of a nutrient (such as sodium or saturated fat), choose foods with a % DV of 5 percent or less. If you need to get more of a specific nutrient—such as fiber—choose food products with a % DV of 20 percent or more.

Even the best diets don’t ensure perfect health. For this reason, it’s important to maintain regular examinations with your doctor and local dentist. While diet and exercise can promote good health, they don’t necessarily protect us from underlying genetic issues which could increase our risk of health problems.

At the same time, genetics, natural aging and poor brushing habits can leave us susceptible to tooth decay and gum disease. For these reasons, it’s important to prioritize your health by eating a well-balanced diet and scheduling regular checkups with your health care providers.