How to Read Nutrition Labels

The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.

The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?

Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!

Here’s my five-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.

Step 1: Serving Size
One part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it’s tricky.

All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.

As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size.  This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.

FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is {imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts}.

Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value {%DV} is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.

NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.

The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.

You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.

Step 3: Middle of the table {e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein}
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup {30 g} of walnuts has 200 calories.

Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It’s easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you {e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.}.

Carbohydrate is total carbohydrates.

Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well.

Step 4: Bottom of the table {e.g. vitamins & minerals}

The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.

Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table {this is optional}. And you’ll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.

Step 5:  What is IN it?
My personal opinion is this is what is VITAL, yet what most miss because they are too focused on the numbers.  What is in the food you are eating?  Do you understand what it is?  Where it is sourced from?  It is so important to understand what we put IN our bodies, as that affects so many things…how we feel physically, and also mentally.  It affects what we think and also affects behavior in children.  THIS IS VITAL to know and understand!

I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.

Do you have questions about it?  If so, leave me a comment below.

Recipe {walnuts}: Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack
Serves 1

8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted

Make a “date sandwich” by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try with pecans instead.

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