How to Read a Nutrition Label

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Remember being a kid and tearing open the cereal box to get the special decoder ring? Today’s cereals should come with a ring you can use to crack the code of their nutrition labels. For those who understand its secrets, the Heart Healthy!” “Enriched With Nutrients by Weight and Percentage of Daily Value (%DV)

If you’re counting fat or carbohydrate grams, you’re familiar with this part of the label. It shows how much of each nutrient is in a single serving by weight in grams and by %DV. This symbol refers to the recommended daily allowance for a nutrient based on a 2,000-calorie diet (you’ll see that some nutrients, such as sugar and protein, don’t have a %DV). Fats are listed as “Total Fat” and also broken down so you can see how much is saturated fat and cause heart disease. They’re also suspected of playing a role in diabetes and cancer. But you won’t find trans fat listed on many nutrition labels, at least not yet. The FDA has given manufacturers until January 2006 to list them. Some manufacturers have already complied. Meanwhile, the code words to watch for in the label’s ingredients list are “partially hydrogenated.”

Trans fats are everywhere you find processed foods. McLeod, who lives in Gainesville, Fla., reads — and understands — nutrition labels. But she didn’t always. “I thought I was eating nutritious foods.” She was shocked when she pulled the packaged foods from her pantry and refrigerator. “I threw out most of it. Trans fat was in almost every single packaged food item in my house.”

Label Reading on the Run

On your way home from work you stop at the grocery store to pick up dinner. Researching labels isn’t a priority. You want to grab the goods and go. Here’s a label-reading shortcut. First, ignore the “sell” on the front. Go straight to the back and look at %DV. According to the FDA, you should look for nutrients you want, such as fiber, to represent 20%DV or more, and nutrients you should limit, such as fat, to represent 5% or less. Next look at serving size. If you’ll eat twice that amount, then double the %DV numbers, or if you’ll eat half the amount, then halve the %DV numbers. Remember that DV is based on 2,000 calories a day. In general a diet containing 1,000 to 1,200 calories per day is what is recommend for most women trying to lose weight and a diet containing between 1,200 and 1,600 should be chosen for most men trying to lose weight.

When you’re in a hurry, maybe the best you can do is compare three brands of the same product, such as chili. Thankfully, manufacturers tend to standardize serving sizes. For chili, it’s 1 cup. So when you check the different brands for %DV it’s easy to see which packs more of the nutrients you want and less of those you don’t want.