At the start of every year, people tend to put a special emphasis on food and what they’re eating. The right diet is key to improving health and trimming waistlines.
Some say that to eat healthy, you must rid your diet of all processed foods and stick with fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. That may be an effective diet for some, but you don’t have to eliminate packaged foods just because you’re afraid of the content. Instead, you simply need to understand what nutrition labels are telling you.
Why You Should Read the Food Labels
Reading the food labels in pursuit of a healthier lifestyle is essential. It offers key information that can lead to more informed decisions, meaning you can limit your intake of certain substances.
By order of the FDA, packaged food must include certain nutritional categories, including:
- Serving size
- Servings per container
- Total Fat
- Total Carbohydrates
- Dietary Fiber
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
Aside from the calories and serving size, the categories listed above are measured in grams or milligrams. They also reveal the percentage of your daily value of that nutritional item. For example, 12 grams of fat is 18 percent of your recommended daily fat intake.
Below the nutrition facts chart, you’ll also see a list of ingredients. We’ll discuss this later, but as a general rule of thumb, the fewer ingredients you see on the label, the healthier this food will be.
Deciphering the Label
If you don’t know how to decipher a food label, the content will be nothing but meaningless numbers. Reading the label wrong can sabotage your health goals completely. Use this guide to better understand and apply the content.
- Serving Sizes
Every food item will show the serving size and the servings per container. Unless it’s a candy bar, a can of soda, or another small food item, the serving size is usually much less than the entire package. In a package of double stuff Oreos, for example, the serving size is two cookies, and there are 15 servings in each package.
This means that two Oreos have 140 calories and 13 grams of sugar. Eating the entire package of Oreos (which most nursing students have probably done at least once while cramming for finals), means you’re ingesting 2100 calories (more than most people are supposed to eat in a day) and 195 grams of sugar, nearly twice the recommended daily allotment.
- Daily Values
If your goal is to eat healthier and avoid consuming excess sodium, fat, sugar, and other ingredients, know your daily recommended values for each. For specific numbers associated with your height, weight, and lifestyle, calculate it here or discuss the matter with a nutritionist.
Otherwise, you can use this list of average recommended values so you know how much of everything you should eat.
- Calories: 2000
- Total Fat: 65 g
- Saturated fatty acids: 20 g
- Sugar: 125 g
- Cholesterol: 300 mg
- Sodium: 2400 mg
- Potassium: 3500 mg
- Total Carbohydrate: 300 g
- Fiber: 25 g
- Protein: 50 g
- Vitamin A: 5000 IU
- Vitamin C: 60 g
- Iron: 18 mg
The daily values will show you how much of a food item you can eat without sabotaging your diet. A single serving of Oreos, for example, has a value of 10 percent for sugar. It’s fine to eat this one serving as a snack, but eating multiple servings will add up quickly throughout the day and can take away from your healthy goals.
At the bottom of the nutrition facts, you’ll see a list of ingredients. It’s always wise to briefly peruse that list.
Ingredients are listed according to quantity. The first item on the list is the main ingredient. Knowing this can help you determine the true health of a recipe. If you’re looking for whole wheat bread, for example, whole wheat should be the first item on the list. Many breads will claim to be whole wheat, but it’s the fourth item on the ingredients list, indicating false advertising.
This information can also be useful when you’re looking to cut back on certain foods. When trying to reduce your consumption of high-fructose corn syrup, for example, it should be listed near the end, indicating there’s only a small amount in the food.
Ingredients on food labels can be misleading, however, since some foods go by many different names. Sugar, for example, could be high-fructose corn syrup, agave nectar, barley malt syrup, glucose, or dehydrated cane juice. Don’t be fooled by other names for ingredients when trying to seek the healthiest option.
Contact Orion College for a Healthier Lifestyle
At Orion College, you can learn all about a healthier lifestyle through our blend of on-campus and online medical courses. We offer a variety of medical degree programs for those looking to change their career or expand their current knowledge of the medical field. For more information about what we offer, contact us today!