Reading Nutrition Labels

When you grab that box of macaroni and cheese from the shelf and turn to the Nutrition Facts label, do you really know what you are looking for? Most people don’t because the truth is that these labels are confusing and often misleading. It’s frustrating to purchase something that you believe is healthy and low in sugar only to find out that it’s the nutritional equivalent to eating a bag of M&Ms.

Knowing the nutrition content of your food is a crucial part to eating healthy and managing your weight. The purpose for labels on food packaging is so that you, the consumer, can make an informed decision and not waste money on a product that doesn’t meet your dietary needs. The good news is that you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out what all those numbers mean. But it may require some simple math. The following tips will make it easier for you to locate and understand the most valuable information on these labels. You’ll learn how to make healthier choices in less time.

Becoming Your Own Expert:

The first place to start is at the top section of the label where it says “nutrition facts”.  Directly under this heading you’ll find the serving size and the number of servings in that package or product. Serving size is always listed in standard forms of measurement like cups, ounces, or pieces. This measurement is followed by the metric amount in grams.

For example: Serving Size 1 cup (228g)

It is the serving size that will determine the number of calories and the amount of nutrients you will consume if you eat that product. The second most important thing to note is the servings per container. This number indicates how many servings are in the entire package or container. This is where the math comes in. You need to calculate how many servings are in a package to determine exactly how many calories and nutrients you will be taking in.

For example:              Serving Size 1 cup (228g)

                                    Serving Per Container 2

                                    Amount Per Serving: Calories 250

Using the above example, you can see that this particular package of food has 2 servings in it. If you ate the entire contents of the package, you would be consuming 500 calories. If you ate only half of the contents in the package, or 1 serving, you would be consuming 250 calories.  This is where most people make their mistake. They will eat the contents of the whole container thinking it only had 250 calories when in fact it had 500! If you want to ensure that you are only eating 250 calories; you would need to measure out one cup of the package contents and put the rest away for another day.

 

This same simple formula needs to be applied to the nutrients that are also listed on the label. If you eat all the contents of the package you must also then double all of the values of the nutrients that are listed on the label.

For example:

        Calories from Fat 110g (1 serving) or 220g (2 servings/whole package)

        Total Carbohydrate 31g (1 serving) or 62g (2 servings/whole package)

        Sugars 5g (1 serving) or 10g (2 servings/whole package)

You can see that if you don’t read labels correctly, your otherwise healthy snack can turn into a high calorie mini meal. Now that you are a label reading expert, be on the look-out for those misleading labels that are a sure sign of a bad product. These include snack sized yogurt containers that claim 2 servings per container or bags of crackers that list serving size as 6 crackers. Who eats just six crackers? I know; it’s a little tricky but once you get into the routine of making these calculations it does get easier. Before you know it, you’ll be in and out of the grocery store and in the comfort of your home enjoying healthy snacks without any hidden surprises.

 

 

 

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