In light of the new nutrition labels being rolled out by the FDA, let’s look at what all that information under Nutrition Label on your foods really means. How much are you really eating? What are you getting out of it? The nutrition label is there to help, as long as you know what you’re reading.
Flickr user rachelulgado
This is the part that a lot of people fail to notice – at least on the old version of the nutrition label. It tells you how much of the food counts as one serving and how many servings are in the container. Unfortunately, it’s often missed when people are simply looking for calories or fat. The new FDA nutrition labels will put more emphasis on calories per package, so you don’t get tricked into eating half a bag of chips before realizing a “serving” is only five chips.
This is a big one for most people, but many don’t remember to take the number of calories into account along with the rest of the label. Sure, the calories are a big indicator of how much energy it will take to burn off the food, but calories don’t necessarily mean evil. Looking at the calories in relation to what else is included in the food, like vitamins, nutrients, or protein gives a better idea of whether or not you should actually feel guilty. After all, foods like avocados and nuts are higher in calories, but they’re healthy fats.
Here’s where you’ll see a breakdown of the major elements in your food, and how much of each vitamin, nutrient, or other value the food has in relation to how much you should have each day. The cookies in the photo above have 29% of your recommended daily intake of saturated fat. Yikes. They also only give you 4% of your recommended sodium. Keeping this stuff in mind is important for making sure you take in enough of the good stuff every day, and not go overboard on the bad stuff.
Note: The new FDA nutrition label will include “Added Sugars” in this section, under the section where the total amount of sugar is listed. Good stuff. Added sugar is sneaky.
Remember, these percentages have to be based on something, which has to be taken with a grain of salt (which don’t worry, shouldn’t add too much to your sodium intake)…
That wordy section at the bottom of a label? That’s where they have to disclaim what they just told you. Food labels base those percentages of vitamins, sugars, carbs, etc. on a “general” daily caloric intake of 2,000. Which is okay, since 2,000 is pretty standard. But that doesn’t mean it applies to everyone. The thing that makes counting calories work is figuring out your unique balance between taking in calories and burning them off – and 2,000 might be too high or too low. So if your ideal calorie number isn’t 2,000, keep that in mind when looking at those Daily Values because the numbers on the labels might not be what you’re shooting for.
General rule of thumb: less fat, sodium and cholesterol, and more protein, fiber and vitamins. Carbs are a little more of a gray area since they do provide energy, but if one serving of something is 40% of your daily carbs, maybe reconsider.
The new FDA labels will try to communicate the Daily Values a little better than before – rather than simply saying the numbers are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, the new labels state what the Daily Value numbers actually mean, and that 2,000 calories a day is general.
What else do you keep in mind when you’re reading a nutrition label? Tell us in the comments below!