7 Steps for Reading Nutrition Labels

We often hear it's important to eat healthy, but what does that really mean? There are so many foods making health claims, how are we supposed to know what's healthy and what's just marketing? Read the label. Here are 7 steps for reading nutrition labels that will help you make healthy food choices.

  1. Start with the serving size. This is important when thinking about how much you eat. Keep in mind that all information on the label is based on one serving of the food. A package of food often contains more than one serving, so if you eat more than the serving size, you'll need to calculate that in for the total nutrients consumed. 
  2. Look at the calorie count. Calories are a way to measure the amount of energy a food provides. We often consume more calories than needed, without getting essential nutrients. Consider this general per-serving guide: 40 calories is low, 100 calories is moderate, and 400 calories or more is high.
  3. Limit certain nutrients. Certain nutrients can impact your health if you consume too many. Saturated and trans fats are linked to increased risk of heart disease, while high levels of sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Too much sugar can make it difficult to meet your nutrient needs without increasing your calorie intake. Nutrition labels now show amount of added sugars, which you'll also want to watch out for. 
  4. Increase certain nutrients. Vitamins and minerals can help improve your health and reduce your risk for certain diseases and conditions. Consider increasing your intake of fiber, vitamin D, calcium, and iron. It's best to eat more fruits and vegetables to get enough of these nutrients. 
  5. Know your daily values (DV). Daily values are an easy way to track your intake of nutrients. They are all based on the average levels of nutrients for a person eating 2,000 calories a day. The daily value percent is for the entire day, so if a food item lists, "5% DV of fat," it provides 5 percent of the total fat that a person should eat for the whole day. 
  6. Understand how to use your daily values. There are certain nutrients we want to decrease and others that we want to increase. Five percent is considered to be low. Try to keep saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugar in this low range. Twenty percent is considered to be high. This is where we want our vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
  7. Read the ingredients. When it comes down to it, the ingredient list will tell you exactly what's in the food you're consuming. They are listed in order from largest amounts to the smallest amounts. Try to avoid artificial flavors and coloring, and stick with foods that list ingredients you recognize.

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Last updated 1/23/2018