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Reading Food Labels: What's the Deal?

The deal with food labels

The Nutrition Facts Panel has several parts. You can use it to help limit those nutrients or parts of food you want to cut back on, and also to increase those nutrients you want to eat in greater amounts. For example, you may want to eat less saturated fat but more calcium.

 

Serving size

It is important to pay attention to the serving size, including how many servings there are in the food package. Compare the serving size to how much you actually eat. The size of the serving on the food package affects all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. One serving of macaroni and cheese equals one cup. If you ate the whole package, you would eat two cups. That doubles the calories and other nutrient amounts.


Calories and calories from fat

Calories are a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. The label also tells you how many of the calories in one serving come from fat. In this example, there are 250 calories in a serving of macaroni and cheese. How many calories from fat are there in ONE serving? Answer: 110 calories, which means almost half come from fat. What if you ate the whole package content? Then, you would consume two servings, or 500 calories, and 220 of those would come from fat.


% Daily Value

The % Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients for a 2,000 calorie daily diet. You may not know exactly how many calories you consume in a day, but you can still use the %DV to help you figure out if a serving of food is high or low in a certain nutrient. This will help you know if the nutrients you get in a serving of food make up a lot or a little of that nutrient for your total daily diet. (By diet, we mean all the different foods you eat in a day.) Generally, anything 5 percent or less is low and anything 20 percent or higher is a lot of that nutrient. Remember, if you double your serving, you also double the percent here.


Limit these nutrients: Fat, cholesterol, and sodium

It is important to limit these nutrients. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, or sodium may raise your risk for certain diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure. Health experts recommend that you keep your intake of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as low as possible as part of a nutritionally balanced diet.

  • Foods that are high in saturated fat include cheese, whole milk, butter, regular ice cream, and some meats. If your foods are prepared or processed with lard, palm oil, or coconut oil, they will also have saturated fat. Saturated fats tend to raise the level of cholesterol in your blood, which can put you at risk for heart disease.
  • Unsaturated fats do not raise blood cholesterol. Foods with unsaturated fats include olives, avocados, fatty fish, like salmon, and most nuts. Olive, canola, sunflower, soybean, corn, and safflower oils are high in unsaturated fats. Even though unsaturated fats don't raise blood cholesterol, all types of fat are high in calories and should be eaten in limited amounts.
  • Trans fats are in foods that have "partially hydrogenated" vegetable oils that are found in some margarines, vegetable shortenings, crackers, candies, baked goods, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, and other processed foods.
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WebMD Public Information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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