Kate's Cuisine

Jun 13 2009

Understanding Food Labels

We all know that food labels are important when we’re trying to make sure that we get a healthy and balanced diet. While food labels can tell us how much good and bad is in a product, these labels can also be quite confusing. What do they mean really and can they really help you eat better? And even more important, are these labels regulated and can we trust a label that came from the manufacturer that wants to sell it to us? Here’s a breakdown of nutrition labels so you can make sure that you can read – and understand – them!

There are some common items that ALL food labels must show. These include: the common name of the product, the name and address of the manufacturer, net content in the form of weight, measure, or count, a list of the ingredients, and the nutrition facts.

The nutrition facts is the area of the food label that leaves many of us confused and befuddled. This is the chart area where there are different items listed with a certain percentage or amount beside it. While the chart may seem self-explanatory, how can you really make sure it has what you need? Well, it depends on what you’re looking for. Fat, cholesterol, sodium, and other common nutrients are required fields. This means that you’ll most likely be able to tell if the food is relatively healthy for you. However, if you’re looking for certain vitamins or minerals such as Vitamin K or potassium, these are optional and you may not find them. What each nutrition fact label is required to show however is the amount of nutrients that each item has.

Nutrition fact labels will also show serving sizes and these sizes are very important to pay attention to. This is because these serving sizes will let you know just how much of that percentage you are getting. A box of chocolate chip cookies for example may show a small percentage of fat so you grab 4. But when you look at the serving size, the quantities are only appropriate for 2 cookies at a time, meaning you’ll have to double those percentages if you want to eat all 4 cookies (which might not be a good idea anyway.)

The amount of calories in a certain food is also a very important part of the nutrition label. While you want to keep your number of calories down, these also translate into your energy for the day, so you’ll need some! The calories indicated on the label will tell you how much energy you will have after eating a certain food. If you’re looking for a low-cal diet, you may be surprised to find that not all fat-free or sugar-free foods are low in calories, so this section can become particularly important.

The percentage of daily values are also shown on the labels and there will usually be a footnote that explains these percentages are based on a 2,000-calorie per day diet.

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