What is a serving size? How much sodium is ok? Is cholesterol that bad? Many of us look at nutritional labels on various products but are often left with questions like these, among others. The goal with this brief introduction to the topic is to help you better understand what you are looking at and to equip you to choose products that are beneficial to your desired lifestyle.
Nutrition labels are intended to help inform your decision, and they can, but only if you can properly “digest” what you are reading. Sometimes our lack of understanding when it comes to what the information provided even means can result in ignoring them altogether. A basic understanding of what your body needs, along with how the labels are designed to be read, can go a long way towards obtaining some practical value from glancing at them. It is an important step in achieving your fitness goals and eating enough of the right things to provide your body with the energy it requires throughout the day.
- Serving size. The main thing you need to take a look at is the serving size, and how many servings are in the package. One of the most common misconceptions is that the serving size is the whole package or container. It can be misleading to think that because something “appears” to be a single serving, that the nutritional fact panel represents the contents of the entire package; when sometimes it may only be as little as one-quarter of it. Making this basic connection will allow you to more accurately assess the content of what you are consuming.
- Caloric Content. Are you trying to achieve a fitness goal? Well, you should pay close attention to this bracket. Calories provide your body with needed energy, but each of our bodies require a different caloric intake depending on how active we are and what our individual goals are (weight loss, gaining muscle, etc.). This section will tell you how many calories you are consuming so that you can compare it against the recommended daily total for your activity level and goals, as well as how many of those calories are from fat.
- Nutrients. Have you heard the term macronutrients? They are the nutrients that are needed by the body in large amounts (as compared to micronutrients which are those required in smaller amounts). The three primary macronutrients are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. In this section of the label, on one side, you will find a listing of the macronutrients as well as some key micronutrients. On the other side, you´ll see a “%DV” which means the percentage of the Daily Recommended Value for that specific nutrient. This area will help you determine if you are hitting (or exceeding) certain nutritional requirements.
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WHAT SHOULD YOU RESTRICT
Try to lower your consumption of these:
- Saturated fat
WHAT SHOULD YOU INCREASE
We want to eat more of these:
- Monounsaturated fat
- Polyunsaturated fat
- Vitamins A & C
One last thing! Remember that %DV is based on a 2,000 calorie diet and this may change depending on how active you are, your special needs, or diet. Someone who is more active or has a physically demanding job will often require more calories per day than someone who sits for the majority of the day without any exercise. Both will have varied caloric intake requirements in order to maintain the status quo; and therefore, slightly varied %DV. Always consult your doctor before modifying your diet.
Now that we have a better understanding of how to interpret a nutrition label, you're one step closer to achieving your health and wellness goals. Just make sure that you put the information to good use as it’s only valuable when applied to your daily routine!