Your ultimate guide to understanding Nutrition Labels!

You know how you want to buy a product, but don’t know if the product is good for your health or not? When you’re at the supermarket trying to decide between two boxes of cereal- one claiming to be “heart-healthy” while the other boasts “no added sugar”, it becomes a real problem trying to decide which one is best. You look at the sides of the boxes where all the nutrition information is, hoping to figure out which one is better for you. But instead of helping, it just makes you more confused. This happens a lot because food companies like to say their products are the healthiest. 

This is where the nutrition facts label comes in- but what exactly is a nutrition label?

It’s a handy tool designed to cut through the marketing strategies, offering consumers detailed information about the nutritional content of packaged foods. These labels are introduced by food regulatory organisations to help consumers make informed food choices, like how many calories are in a serving and what kinds of micronutrients are included. Knowing how to read this label is super important for anyone looking to maintain a balanced diet, manage health conditions, or simply make healthier choices.

So essentially, when you know what to look for, you can choose foods that are better for you. There are many reasons why nutrition labels are so important, and here’s a few:

  • Labels tell you exactly what’s inside your food, such as the amount of sugar, carbohydrates and fat contained in the food, and helps you know exactly what you’re eating.
  • Once you get the hang of reading labels, you can quickly see which foods are healthier. For example, you might think some snacks are good for you, but the label could show they’re actually full of sugar or salt.
  • Labels show the serving size, which is how much you’re supposed to eat in one sitting, helping you determine how much should be consumed per portion. For example: if a packet says it has 08 servings, then consuming the entire package in one sitting gives you 08 times more of all the macro and micronutrients mentioned in the nutrition label. 
  • Whether you want to lose weight, lower your blood pressure, or just eat better, labels can help you track what you’re eating so you can reach and maintain health goals.

So what exactly should we look out for in a nutrition label? 

There are several components included in a nutrition label including the Daily Value percentage (%DV) and they are: Serving size, Servings per container, Calories, Total fat (including specific types of fat such as saturated and trans fat), Cholesterol, Sodium, Total carbohydrates (including dietary fiber, total and added sugar), Proteins, Vitamins and Minerals

Let’s talk about what these components are:

  • Serving size: The serving size on the label shows how much of the food the nutrition info is about. It’s really important because all the numbers you see are for this amount of food, like with the 08 servings providing 08 times more nutrition.
  • Calories: The part of the label that talks about calories helps you understand if a food gives you a lot or a little energy compared to what you need in a day. If you eat more calories than your body uses, you might gain weight. So, watching calories can help you keep your weight in check. 
  • Nutrients to limit: Some nutrients on the label, like saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium, are nutrients you might not want too much of. The label helps you watch how much of these you’re eating so you can make choices that are better for your heart and health.
  • Added sugars: Added sugars are sugars that are not naturally in food but are added during processing or preparation. 
  • Daily Value Percentage (%DV): This is a guide that helps you see if a food has a lot or a little of certain nutrients, based on eating 2,000 calories a day. If the %DV is 5% or less, it means the food has a little bit of that nutrient. If the %DV is 20% or more, it means the food has a lot of that nutrient. 

Another fun fact is that on a food label, the ingredients are listed in order from the most to the least, based on how much of each is in the food. This means the first ingredient is what the food has the most of, and the last ingredient is what it has the least of. This is useful in figuring out what the main ingredient of a food item is, and is also very important for people with food allergies. If someone is allergic to peanuts, they can check the ingredients list to see if peanuts are listed. Since ingredients are listed by how much is in the food, if peanuts are one of the first few ingredients, it means there’s a relatively larger amount in that certain food item. 

And there you have it, a simple guide to understanding those tricky nutrition labels! Now that you know what to look for, you’re all set to make smarter, healthier food choices. So next time you’re in the grocery store, take a quick peek at those labels.  Remember, making informed food choices is a powerful tool in maintaining and improving your overall health. Let’s make those choices count and move towards a healthier future, one label at a time.

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