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Depending on your dietary lifestyle, restrictions, or preferences you may be paying more attention to one part of a food label over another. I remember the days of only looking at how many calories something had and paying no attention to any other parts of the label. I personally try to eat as little out of a box as possible, but of course, we all have crackers and cereals and canned goods in our homes, and separately from understanding the ingredients, we should also understand the label. The label will detail out the nutritional information, good and bad, of the product you’re consuming. My intention with this post is not to get into the details of nutrition, but instead to demistify and provide a general overview of how to read a label. Save or pin the infographic below for a quick reference guide for reading a label and read on for more detail.
Always be mindful of how many servings are in a food package. Never assume a single package is a single serving. Since you multiply nutritional information by the amount of servings you’re consuming, it is a common marketing trick to mark a label with multiple servings to make the overall label look more desirable and show lower numbers on nutrients you may want to limit.
I am not a calorie counter and I don’t recommend you become one. However, if you’re eating a packaged food, scanning the calorie count is a good idea. The average meal (breakfast, lunch dinner) should fall somewhere in the range of 400 – 800 calories. You may pick up a bag of chips that borders a calorie count close to a full meal. Whether you decide to eat it is completely up to you, but at least you’re informed about how much of that snack contributes towards your daily calorie consumption.
IMPORTANT: Your daily calorie consumption is dependent on so many things – your age, activity level, sex, body size, metabolism, and dietary lifestyle. Do not box yourself in to the 2000 or 2500 calorie suggestions on the side of a box, but rather assess where you should be based on the various aspects of your life. If you don’t know where to start, considering speaking to a nutritionist.
Calories from Fat
A good rule of thumb is to shoot for your Calories from Fat to be to 20-30% of the total calories.
Nutrients to Limit
Limit fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and sugar – in line with the dietary lifestyle that applies to you. The general public usually consumes enough of these nutrients and keeping the daily value low will reduce the risk of possible chronic disease. My personal definition of low would be to aim for 5% or less.
Nutrients to Maximize
Getting enough vitamins, minerals and fiber in your diet is important – no matter your dietary lifestyle. Eating enough of these ingredients positively contributes to your health and may reduce your risk of possible chronic disease. I strongly urge you to get as much of these nutrients from fruits and vegetable, but if you are eating a boxed food, aim for a high daily value. My personal definition of high would be 20% or more.
% Daily Value
The % Daily Value along the side of the label gives you a rough estimate of the recommended amount of nutrients for a 2000 calorie diet. Keep in mind that these percentages are for a full day and not a single meal. Based on your dietary lifestyle you may be eating more or less than 2000 calories a day and you should remember to take that into account when reading the label. If your label includes a % Daily Value at the bottom of the label, it may also show the values for a 2500 calorie diet.