To many people, food labels are a complex list of numbers and figures that mean very little in real life. However, once you understand the key elements of how to read a food label you will be well on your way to better health. Food labels are broken down into several sections that you can use to determine whether or not a product is suitable for your dietary needs.
Absolutely the most important thing to look for on any nutrition label is a description of the serving size. In some cases, serving size can be very straight forward (i.e. one can of soup), but in other cases what looks like a single serving is actually two or more servings per the manufacturer. For instance many carbonated beverages are sold in bottles that actually contain 2.5 servings. Until you know how much you are supposed to be consuming at one time, you will not be able to accurately calculate the nutritional value of your food and drinks.
If you are wondering how to read a food label, it is likely that you are already familiar with the concept of calorie counting. For years the standard diet has consisted of 2,000-2,500 calories per day depending on age, weight and activity level. The nutrition label on your food and drinks will tell you how many calories you are consuming with each serving. Again, you need to accurately measure your servings for this number to be realistic.
What to Watch Out For
The next section of your nutritional label will be a breakdown of the individual nutrients that make up your food. At the top of the list is fats, cholesterol and sodium. You should be trying to limit your saturated fats to around 10 g per day, and remove as many trans fats as possible. In addition, you should not have more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day as it can cause heart problems.
What to Stock Up On
Below the fats and sodium, the next section of the nutritional label is the nutrients you really need. Carbohydrates give you energy, but you should watch out for carbs that are made of entirely sugar, and opt for foods high in fiber instead. Protein, calcium, iron and all of the other nutrients listed in this region of the food label are what keep your body healthy and working properly. Seek advice from a dietician or medical professional to find out how much of each one you need.
The daily values breakdown at the bottom of each nutrition label is a convenient cheat sheet for anyone to use. Based on recommended daily values of each nutrient, this panel displays serving information as a percentage. If the label lists Vitamin C at 15%, you know that each serving is 15% of your total recommended intake of that vitamin. It is not an exact measurement but a guideline based on generally accepted dietary recommendations.
Understanding how to read a food label is an important part of staying healthy throughout your life. You can protect yourself against dangerous fats and sugars while maximizing your intake of necessary vitamins and minerals. In addition, you will often be surprised by seemingly healthy products that are actually very deceptive when it comes to their true nutritional value. Per the FDA, all food labels must use this standardized layout to pass food label requirements, and manufacturers are expected to be in compliance at all times.
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