Making Sense of Food Labels

Choose Healthy Packaged Food

Finding the right foods to buy is sometimes a challenging task. Without looking at the label it might be tricky to know which ingredients are included. You may be eating more added sugar than you thought. Reading nutrition panels can help you make informed food choices. 

USDA’s New Labels

In the last years USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) updated the nutrition labels on food packages and gradually implemented the changes across the food industry. You might have noticed their new look.

Overall, an active person needs to get a variety of healthy carbs, lean protein, and good quality fats while not over-consuming saturated fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Without looking at the food’s nutritional panel, it might be hard to judge which foods should be chosen more frequently or rather avoided.

Old (Left) vs. New (Right)

Why New?

The main reasons for the change where the following:

Change 1. Features a SIMPLER Design

For some consumers – peoples and health seekers alike – reading a label was simply too confusing. For example, not everybody got the meaning of %DV (percent of Daily Value) correctly. This value should help you to understand the nutrition information relatively to a standardized daily diet. The old labels did not highlight the amount of calories properly either.

Some Foods Needed Individual Solutions eg. Unpopped vs. Popped

Change 2. Reflects Updated Information about Nutrition Science

The daily values (DV) are reference amounts of nutrients to consume or not to exceed and are used to calculate the %DV. They got updated based on new nutrition related scientific evidence. 

“Calories from Fat” has been removed and “Added Sugars” got added. Listing of Vitamin D and potassium are now required, but Vitamin A+C not longer.

Especially Important For Selecting Healthy Carbohydrates – Added Sugars

Change 3. Updates Serving Sizes and Labeling Requirements for Certain Package Sizes

The portion size on the previous labels did not always reflect the amount a person would actually consume. For example, a bag of chips could have been labeled as 2 serving sizes, but most people would eat the entire package in one serving.

Be Honest – How Many Links Ar You Going To Eat?

How Do You Read The New Labels?

Use these easy steps to find your way.

Step 1:
Look at the serving size. Compare the serving size on the package to the amount that you eat eg. are you eating 5 or 15 almonds?

Step 2:
Look at the calories. Calories are an quick way to tell you if the food you are looking at is ‘high-caloric’ or ‘low-caloric’ eg. regular cheese vs. low-fat cottage cheese.

Take A Quick Glance To Read The Bold Text

Step 3:
Look at the percent Daily Value (% Daily Value).
% Daily Value puts nutrients on a scale from 0% to 100%. This scale tells you if there is a little or a lot of a nutrient in one serving of your food eg. with dried apricots you can only cover 1% of your daily protein needs, but you would get 12% of your daily carbohydrates, and 15% of the potassium you need.

Low: 5% or less of a nutrient per serving
High: 20% or more of a nutrient per serving

Example of 58% DV of Added Sugars = High-Dense = Lots of Energy in 2 TBSP

Example Total Fats: 1 serving of bacon (56 grams) contains 16 grams of total fats. Which is equivalent to 25% DV of Fat (= high in fat).

As a reference, 20-35 percent of total calories should be made of fat. Based on the standard reference of a 2,000-calorie diet this would equate to 44-77 grams of fat per day. Which means bacon would be considered a food you should eat in moderation.

Step 4:
Pick foods based on their nutrients.
Get in the habit of checking DVs to choose foods high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, and low in saturated fat, added sugar and sodium.

Physically active people have an increased need for lean protein. When selecting protein-rich foods like milk, cheese or meat, check the amount of listed fats.

Active adults also need to select foods high in quality carbohydrates. Natural sources of sugar are healthier than foods containing a high amount of added sugars.

Example Added Sugars: 1 serving of a healthy looking, store-bought, smoothie might contain 87 grams of added sugars. Which is equivalent to 156% DV of Added Sugars (= very high in added sugars).

As a reference, only 10 percent of total calories should be made of added sugars. Based on the standard reference of a 2,000-calorie diet this would equate to 50 grams of added sugars (or 200 calories) per day. You might better opt for a less sugary food instead of the deceitfully healthy looking smoothie.

Watch Out for Added Sugars

Ingredient List – Check The Order and Length!

The ingredient list shows each ingredient in a food by its common or usual name in descending order by weight. Which means ingredients are listed by quantity — from highest to lowest.

So, the ingredient with the greatest contribution to the product weight is listed first, and the ingredient contributing the least by weight is listed last.

A good rule of thumb is to scan the first three ingredients, as they make up the largest part of what you’re eating. Try choosing items that have whole foods listed as the first three ingredients.

Compare Nutrition Facts With Ingredients

In addition, an ingredients list that is longer than two to three lines suggests that the product is highly processed.

To Sum It Up

The nutrition facts label found on packaged foods and beverages can be your daily tool for choosing higher quality foods.

Reading labels can contribute to develop healthy lifelong eating habits.

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