Today's supermarket is filled with thousands of prepackaged foods to choose from, making the best nutritional choices difficult. Using the Nutrition Facts label located on the packaging can help you get the most nutrition for your food dollar.
Use the Nutrition Facts label when you shop, as you plan your meals and as you cook. The label helps you determine the amount of nutrients you are getting from the food choices you are making and will help you compare one product to another. There is a lot of information on the nutrition facts label and you may not want to read the entire label while shopping; however, there are a few places that you can scan quickly.
Check the serving size and how many servings are in the package/container. How many servings are you actually eating? If you eat two servings of a food, you will consume double the calories and double the percent Daily Value (% DV) of the nutrients listed on the Nutrition Facts label.
Check how many calories are in a serving and what nutrients you are getting for those calories. When you look at the label, check the calories, and then check the nutrients to decide whether the food is worth eating.
Does the food contain a lot of sugar? Read the ingredient list and make sure added sugars are not one of the first few ingredients. Some names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup and fructose.
Know your fats. Keep the saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol low to help reduce the risk of heart disease. Choose foods that contain monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, rather than saturated or trans fats.
Does the food contain a lot of salt? Sodium recommendations are to consume less than 2,300 milligrams per day. Doing this might help reduce the risk of high blood pressure. Processed foods might be high in sodium, so read the label for the amount of sodium in a food.
There is no need to memorize label definitions. Use the %DV to help you quickly distinguish one claim, such as "reduced fat" vs. "light" or "nonfat," from another. Just compare the %DVs for Total Fat in each food product to see which one is higher or lower in that nutrient. This works when comparing all nutrient content claims, e.g., less, light, low, free, more, high, etc.
The Nutrition Facts Label gives you much more information than these few points. Using the Nutrition Facts label is a key part of weight management and making healthy food choices.
For more information on the Nutrition Facts label, you will find a wealth of materials that make it easy to understand and use the Nutrition Facts Label at the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition at www.fda.gov/Food/ResourcesForYou/Consumers/NFLPM.
If you have questions about what dietary recommendations are for you, go to ChooseMyPlate.gov to read more.
Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.