How to Understand
Food Labels Nutrition Facts Panel
Navigating Food Labels - Dianne
Here are a few tips to help
you dissect the food label before your next visit to the supermarket:
SERVING SIZE MATTERS
Just because the food label
lists a certain number of calories per serving does NOT mean that's
how much YOU eat. In fact, almost everyone I know consumes much
more than the serving size listed on the Nutrition Facts panel.
Many times the amounts are just not realistic, and most people
-- rather than counting out 15 chips or measuring a three-ounce
serving -- either fool themselves into thinking they're eating
the "right amount" or ignore it altogether. And because
the ENTIRE Nutrition Facts panel is based on the "serving
size," it's very important to get it right or all the information
will be inaccurate.
So, what should you do? Try
to get an accurate measurement once in a while. I generally recommend
breaking out the measuring utensils for a month until you get
proficient at eyeballing.
Comparing calories from food
to food is also confusing because food densities differ, so a
volume-to-volume approach doesn't always work. It would be simpler
to comparison-shop if there was a "calories per gram"
standard on the panel -- similar to the way supermarkets have
CALORIES ARE KEY
The reality is that calories
are a good thing -- they're a source of energy. The problem arises
when we eat too many of them. Females typically need 1500 - 1,800
calories or fewer per day, while males need about 2,200. click
here to get a rough estimate of your caloric needs
If you still have trouble understanding
the value of a calorie, keep this in mind: for every extra 100
calories you eat each day, you would have to walk for an additional
25 minutes to burn it off. At least you'll have something to relate
to the next time you reach for that second bite of cake.
Oh, and about those "Calories
from Fat" on the Nutrition Facts panel -- as a general rule,
a low-fat food should have no more than 20 percent of the total
calories from fat. So if you have a food with 200 calories, and
100 calories are from fat, do the math -- fifty percent of its
calories from fat, far from 20 percent, so it's not a low-fat
Figuring Out fats
We've come a long way since
the days of "cutting the fat" We need fat in our diets
-- The AHA and ADA recommend 20 to 30 percent of our daily food
intake should come from fat, with no more than 10% of your daily
calories coming from saturated (bad) fats
The Bad Fats
Saturated: These fats, which
are listed on the label, are found primarily in animal products
like meat, whole-milk dairy products, poultry skin, and egg yolks.
Consuming too many of these fats can raise your "bad"
cholesterol levels and contribute to arteriosclosis
Transfats : This fat was created
to increase food shelf life. Manufacturers take healthy polyunsaturated
oils and blast them with hydrogen gas to solidify them, and, in
the process, make them incredibly unhealthy. The problem is that
trans fat won't be listed on the label until 2006, so you need
to look for trans fat clues. Know "suspect" foods, such
as margarines (unless they say "no trans fat" on the
label), shortenings, deep-fried foods, fast foods, and many commercial
baked goods such as pies, cookies, cakes, crackers, and doughnuts.
Check the ingredients list, and be on the lookout for partially
hydrogenated oil -- if it's there, you have trans fat. Also, many
products now promote that they are "trans fat free"
-- look for this on the front of the packaging.
The Good Fats
Unsaturated fats are found
in products derived from plant sources, such as vegetable oils,
nuts, and seeds. There are two main categories:
Monounsaturated: These fats
are found in high concentrations in canola, peanut, and olive
oils, as well as olives, peanuts and peanut butter, and avocados.
Studies have found that monounsaturated fat helps lower LDL (the
"bad") cholesterol and raise HDL (the "good")
cholesterol levels in your body.
Polyunsaturated: These fats
are prevalent in sunflower, corn, safflower, cottonseed, and soybean
oils, nuts, and fish (omega-3). They've been found to help lower
total cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease (particularly
Unfortunately, neither type
of "good" fat is required to be listed on the food label,
but some companies do provide this information. You can also subtract
the saturated fat from the total, and check the ingredient list
for trans fat clues -- anything left over is probably "good"
fat. You'll only get a vague idea, but hey, it's better than nothing!
CARBOHYDRATES ARE NOT ALL BAD
Carbs are taking a bit of a
bashing these days , even though they are an important nutrient
and necessary for survival. Foods that contain carbohydrates include
fruits, vegetables, starches, beans, nuts, milk, and yogurt. Carbohydrates
are also found in any food that contains sugar such as cookies,
cakes, soft drinks, syrups, and, of course, table sugar.
Clearly, there are different
types of carbs and they are not all created equal. While most
carbs -- sugar is the best example -- are digested and turned
into blood sugar, other carbs behave differently. In fact, if
you are looking at the Nutrition Facts panel, you will see carbohydrates
broken down into two categories: dietary fiber and sugar.
What exactly is dietary fiber?
Simply put, it's the indigestible parts of plant cells. Although
it is a carbohydrate, fiber does not convert to glucose and thus
does not raise your blood sugar the way other carbohydrates typically
do, and it makes you feel full longer -- a good thing.
The "sugars" section
includes those that are present naturally in the food (such as
lactose in milk and fructose in fruit), as well as sugars added
to the food during processing. In most cases, your body can't
distinguish between the two. If you're interested in finding out
whether a sweetener has been added, check the ingredients list
for terms such as "sugar (sucrose)," "fructose,"
"maltose," "lactose," "honey," "syrup,"
"corn syrup," "high-fructose corn syrup,"
"molasses," and "fruit juice concentrate."
A FEW CLUES
A Percent Daily Value (%DV)
is listed for each nutrient. These percentages are helpful for
determining a food's nutritional value, or lack thereof. They
tell you whether one serving of food contributes a lot or a little
to your total nutrient intake for the day (based on an average
2000-calorie diet). Be Aware that most women on a fat reduction
food plan will take in closer to 1500 calories a day, so adjust
About The Author
Custom Bodies, Inc. 2004
President of Custom Bodies is a personal fitness instructor certified
through the National Academy of Sports Medicine with over 16 years
of experience. Custom Bodies has been serving the bay area since
1996 with weight loss & fitness programs for every fitness
level. For more articles or free fitness tools visit www.mypersonalfitnesscoach.com