Dr. Bridget Gibson: How to Evaluate Nutrition Facts Labels | Free
Food products on supermarket shelves contain nutrition facts labels. Nutrition facts labels indicate the nutrients contained in a specific food. But why bother looking at nutrition labels?
You can use them as a guide to make informed decisions about healthy eating. Here are the parts of a nutrition facts label and how you can use it for your diet as well:
1. Provide information
The first thing you will see on a nutrition facts label is the serving size information, the number of servings in a package and the serving size. Serving size indicates how much people usually eat or drink; it is not a recommendation. These portions are also standardized to compare them with other similar food products. Pay close attention to the number of servings. For example, it may be easy to eat the whole package with multiple servings when nutritionally you only need one serving.
Calories indicate the amount of energy you get from one serving of food. The amount of calories you can consume depends on your age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity. To maintain a healthy body weight, balance the calories from your food and drink intake with what your body uses.
You can consult this part to guide you on the nutrients you want to add or limit in your diet. Here are some tips:
—Saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars are the nutrients you should limit, as these are the nutrients linked to an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Difference between total sugars and added sugars? Total sugars are the sugars naturally present in food products and beverages as well as added sugars. Added sugars are sugars added during food processing (eg sucrose), sweeteners (eg table sugar), sugars from syrups and honey, and sugar from fruits and vegetables.
—Dietary fibre, vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium are the nutrients you want to have in your diet. These nutrients promote good intestinal transit, lower blood glucose and cholesterol levels and reduce caloric intake. These nutrients can also reduce the risk of developing certain diseases such as osteoporosis, anemia and hypertension.
4. Percent Daily Value
The Percent Daily Value (%DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a serving contributes to the total daily diet and also tells you if a serving contains low or high nutrients. As a general rule, less than 5% DV per serving is considered low. Aim for less than 20% DV for a serving of nutrient-dense food. But look for a higher %DV for dietary fiber, vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium, and a lower %DV for saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars. You can also use %DV to:
—Compare foods: look for higher %DV for nutrients you want to consume more and lower %DV for nutrients you want to consume less. Just make sure you are comparing the same serving size.
— Understanding Nutrient Content Claims: This helps you distinguish between “light”, “low” and “reduced” using %DV.
— Dietary compromises: you can use % DV as a guide to balancing your nutrient intake. Be sure not to exceed 100% DV for each nutrient to maintain a healthy diet.
Sources include the United States Food and Drug Administration. To learn more, visit www.brookwoodbaptisthealth.com.
Dr. Bridget Gibson is a family physician for Brookwood Baptist Health.