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How to Read a Nutrition Label

Author: Cara Walsh

July 08, 2014

How to Read a Nutrition Label

Author: Cara Walsh

July 08, 2014

Learning how to correctly read a nutrition label is an imperative part of weight loss and weight maintenance. Information such as serving sizes, calories and fat are just some of the important components that can help you determine which foods are healthy.

  1. A calorie is a unit of energy.
    • Know what sources your calories come from.
    • Carbohydrate: 4 calories/gram Protein: 4 calories/gram Alcohol: 7 calories/gram Fat: 9 calories/gram
  2. What is a serving size?
    • A serving size is the amount of food the nutrition label is based on. Adjust the amount of calories and nutrients if your serving size is different than the label. Double the portion means double the calories, double the fat, and double the sugar.
  3. Limit Fat Calories.
    • Calories from fat should be no more than 30% of total calories per serving. Keep Saturated fats as minimal as possible. Unsaturated fats are a healthy source of fat. All Medifast products and condiment have 5 grams of fat or less.
  4. Avoid items high in sugar and fructose syrup.
    • Foods that are high in sugar and fructose corn syrup are typically not the best products to choose from. They can raise your blood sugar quickly and provide a ‘crashing’ feeling later. Try to get most of your sugar intake from natural sources such as fruits or low-fat/fat free dairy products.
  5. Avoid Trans Fats
    • Hydrogenated oils are those that may use trans fats. These fats cause an increase in your LDL (bad cholesterol) and a decrease in your HDL (good cholesterol). If you see a nutrition label with partially hydrogenated oils, it is best to stay away.
  6. Protein and fiber keep you full and satisfied.
    • Aim for 4-5 grams of fiber per serving, for a total of 25-30 g of fiber per day. Most people should get 50-75 grams of protein daily. Strive for snacks that are higher in protein content than fat content.
  7. Monitor your sodium intake
    • It is recommended to consume less than 2, 300 mg per day or 1,400 mg for individuals with special health or dietary concerns.
  8. How to read the numbers.
    • Percentages show whether the nutrients in one serving contribute a small or large amount of your total daily intake. If a label says 5% or less it is considered “a little” and 20% or more is “a lot”. For example, if a dinner meal has 100% of your daily value of saturated fat that is not a good choice. However, if a dinner meal has 100% daily value of calcium, that would be a good choice.
  9. Beware of Footnotes
    • Footnotes are not specific to the food itself and they are not required on the package. The percent daily values are usually based on a 2,000 or 2,500 calorie diet and should be adjusted for your caloric needs. Most children, women and older adults need less calories while active teens and adults may need more calories.
  10. Read the ingredients!
    • What is the first item? All ingredients must be listed in descending order by weight, including added water. The ingredient listed first is present in the largest amount and the ingredient listed last is present in the least amount. Trace amounts of food may net be listed on the label. However, all major food allergens, regardless of whether they are present only in trace amounts must be declared.
  11. What if you are not sure if a certain food is a healthy choice?
    • Look at the ingredients list. Are the first 3 ingredients whole foods? Examples include, wheat, milk, or chicken. If the label says sugar, fat or another high calorie ingredient, it may not be the best choice.

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