Good to Know

Understanding Nutrition Labels

Gulf Coast Healthy Living Magazine Volume 3, Issue 1 - Healthy Lives

You know it’s important to pay attention to nutrition. You know to limit certain things like fat and sodium, and to consume nutrient-rich foods. But how many times have you pored over a nutrition label only to have your eyes glaze over? It can be confusing at first, but when you understand how to read a nutrition label, you can make wiser food selections that won’t sabotage your health with “hidden” ingredients.

You’ve probably heard about RDA, commonly known as your Recommended Daily Allowance. Mayo Clinic defines RDA as the amount of vitamins and minerals needed to provide adequate nutrition for most healthy persons. RDAs for a given nutrient may vary depending on a person’s age, gender, and physical condition (e.g., pregnancy). Daily Values (DVs) are used on food and dietary supplement labels to indicate the percent of the RDA nutrients that a serving provides. DV replaces the previous designation of United States Recommended Daily Allowances (USRDAs).

Bottom line — each day you should strive to consume a certain amount of some nutrients while limiting others. On a nutrition label, the ingredients to limit are at the top: fat, sodium and cholesterol. On the right side of the label are percentages. You want the fat, sodium and cholesterol on the label to have low percentages. You want the protein, vitamins and minerals at the bottom of the label to have high percentages. These percentages are for a 2000-calorie diet, but even if your calorie intake is different, you can still use these percentages to compare different food products.

If you’d like more help deciphering nutrition labels and learning more about how to make healthy food choices why not enlist the assistance of a health coach? Healthy Lives™ Powered by Baptist Health Care is now offering individual memberships to the Gulf Coast community. Call 1.850.469.6903 to learn how you can join this popular wellness program.

Girl with groceries.

Choose whole foods. Whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits and vegetables may not have nutrition labels attached. Super markets often post the nutrition label above the produce bin so you can determine just how many vitamins and minerals you’re consuming. If not, you can look up this information online or purchase a quick reference pocket guide about nutrition

Shop the periphery of the store. Fresh, whole foods are normally displayed along the walls of the store. Packaged foods are in the inside aisles. Packaged foods are more likely to contain added sodium, fat and sugar.

Know your fats. Limit all fats, but especially saturated fat, and try to eliminate trans fats from your diet altogether. Saturated and trans fats are listed on separate lines on the nutrition label for easy calculation.

Limit added sugars. All sugars are not equal. Naturally produced sugars such as those found in milk or fruit are considered fine to consume in moderation. “Bad” sugars are those that have been added to foods and include processed table sugar (sucrose) and high-fructose corn syrup, both of which have been shown to contribute to our country’s increase in obesity and cases of type 2 diabetes.