Navigating Food Packaging
NOTE: The following nutrition label was colored to help you focus on each area. You will not see these colors on the food labels on the products that you purchase.
Example: Cereal box label
5 Simple Steps to Reading a Food Label
1. Start Here
Look at the size of one serving and determine how many total servings are in the package. Serving sizes are provided in units such as cups or pieces to make it easier to compare similar foods. Pay attention to how many servings are in a food package since most foods advertise low calories based off servings. For example, this cereal box contains eleven servings. Therefore, the whole box contains:
110*11 = 1,210 Calories
1.5*11 = 16.5g Total Fat
170*11 = 1,870g Sodium
25 * 11 = 275g Total Carbohydrate
If you consumed 2 servings (1.5 cups), you would be consuming 220 Calories.
2. Check Calories
Calories are a unit of energy. If you consume more calories from food than you expend in energy during the day, you may gain weight. If consume fewer calories than you expend in energy, you may lose weight.
In general, for one serving:
- 40 Calories is low
- 100 Calories is moderate
- 400 Calories or more is high
3. Limit These Nutrients
Many Americans generally eat an adequate amount of or too much of these nutrients. Limit or eliminate the intake of these nutrients- fat (total, saturated, trans), sodium, and cholesterol, since they are related to increased risk for chronic disease.
General Daily Intake Guidelines:
- Ages 2 – 51: <2,300mg
- Ages > 51, African Americans, Americans with hypertension or diabetes: <1,500mg
- Fatty Acids and Cholesterol
- Saturated fatty acids should be <10% of total caloric intake (1g of fat = 9 Calories)
- Avoid trans fat as much as possible
- < 300mg of cholesterol
- If the food item does not contain milk or fruit, all of the sugars are added sugars. Minimize intake of added sugars (i.e. soda, desserts, etc.)
4. Increase Consumption of These Nutrients
Increasing your consumption of fiber, vitamin A & C , calcium, and iron can help reduce risk of some diseases and conditions. For example, osteoporosis is caused by calcium deficiency so if you increase your consumption of calcium, it will decrease your risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, eating fiber promotes healthy bowel function and eating fruits and vegetables, which are low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
5. Quick Check of % Daily Value
The % Daily Value was created by the US Food and Drug Administration to help consumers (you) determine if you are eating too much or too little of certain nutrients. The % Daily Value is appropriate for children over the age of 4 and healthy adults. Typically, children under the age of 4 need to consume less than 100% and pregnant women need to consume more than 100% for each of the nutrients listed.
For the 3 macronutrients: carbohydrates, fat, protein, % Daily Value is based on a 2000 Calorie diet. For example, if you burn 1800 Calories per day, you should consume 1800 Calories to maintain weight. This also means that eating 1 serving of cereal from the product above would be more than 8% of your total carbohydrate intake for the day.
For the micronutrients: vitamins and minerals (Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, etc.), % Daily Value should add up to 100% after adding up the nutrients found in all of the food you eat in one day.
For example, if you consume 2 servings of cereal (1.5cups), you will have consumed 30% of the Daily Value for Vitamin A which will leave 70% to be consumed from other sources.
“Food.” How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. U.S. Food and Drug
Administration, 2 Mar. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm
USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 2010. http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/dga2010/DietaryGuidelines2010.pdf