Decoding the Mystery That Is Nutritional Food Labeling

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When it comes to food labeling we can be quickly overwhelmed by the information provided to us. Snappy wording on the front of packages like “good source and low in…” can have you guessing about what is really going on with your food. In this two-part series, we will dive into how to interpret these claims and actually read nutrition labels on packaged products.

My first suggestion is to get familiar with the Nutrition Facts Panel. This panel offers information about the nutrients in the product and how these nutrients compare to the total amount you should have each day, often based on a 2,000 calorie diet. It is usually found on the back or the side of the food package. Reviewing and understanding this information is critical to making healthy food choices.

First, look at serving size. This is located on the top of the panel. Everything else listed on the label is based on that amount of food. Be aware of how many servings are in the package, and compare this to how much you actually eat.

Next, review the various nutrients and amounts of each. When looking at amounts and percentages make sure to compare these numbers to how much you actually plan to eat. If you are going to eat 2 servings then you will need to multiply these amounts. When seeking a healthy choice look for foods that are high in dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. Limit nutrients like total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

It can be difficult to figure out how much of each nutrient you need when you are looking at grams and milligrams. Thankfully, the Percentage Daily Value, noted as %DV, is listed for each of the nutrients on the right side of the panel. This allows you to see how the food contributes to your overall daily nutrient allowance. For instance, if an item has 25 grams of carbohydrates per serving, the %DV tells you that the item supplies 8% of the carbohydrates you need each day. An easy way to see how the food stacks up is to use the “5-20” rule. If a food supplies 5% or less of the daily value, it is considered to be low in that nutrient. If a food supplies 20% or more of the daily value, it is high in that nutrient. Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Not everyone should consume a 2,000 calorie diet. It is helpful to know how many calories you should consume so you have a more accurate picture of how food affects your diet.

Now you can put your knowledge to the test the next time you grab something out of the cabinet or go to the grocery store. Knowing what goes into your body is the best way to ensure that you are making healthy and informed choices. This is such a quick and easy thing to do. You will be surprised at how easy it becomes a habit.

For more information on food labels check back next month for part two or contact Olivia Jones via email, olivia_jones@ncsu.edu or phone 252-232-2261.

Image of a sample nutrition label

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Photo of Olivia Jones, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionOlivia JonesArea Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences (252) 232-2261 (Office) olivia_jones@ncsu.eduCurrituck County, North Carolina
Updated on Jul 25, 2018
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