What to Look For on Nutrition Labels - dummies

What to Look For on Nutrition Labels

By Jane Kirby, The American Dietetic Association

Since 1990, when the Food and Drug Administration’s Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA), went into effect, all packaged food products (with a few exceptions) carry labeling that states the nutritional content in the package. The law also allows manufacturers to use certain food-and-health claims on the labels of their products too.

But such labeling can be overwhelming. When you understand how to read and use the information on a food label, you’ll discover that the label can help you choose foods that fit into your diet.

This list gives you the skinny on the most important information featured on Nutrition Facts labels:

  • Calories: The calorie total is based on the stated serving size — so if you eat more or less than what the label lists as one portion, you need to do the math.

  • Dietary fiber: Choose the foods with the most fiber. Research shows that people who eat plenty of fiber also eat fewer calories. You get the most fiber in foods made from whole grains, such as cereals and breads. Fruits and vegetables have fiber, too. A food is considered to be high in fiber if it has at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

  • Serving size: Notice how the food manufacturer’s serving size compares to the size you usually eat. For example, does your normal serving of ice cream measure more than the standard 1/2 cup? And remember that serving amounts are given in level measuring cups or spoons. Servings per container can help you estimate sizes if a measuring cup or spoon isn’t handy.

  • Total fat: For dieting, keep total fat to less than about 20 to 30 percent of calories. For someone who eats 1,500 calories a day, that’s no more than 33 to 50 grams. Remember, the Percentage Daily Value numbers on Nutrition Facts labels are based on 65 grams of fat a day (30 percent of total calories) and calculated on a 2,000-calorie-per-day diet.

Trans fatty acid is the newest item to be added to the Nutrition Fact label. Like saturated fat, trans fat is a type of fat. The grams of these fats, and their calories, are already accounted for in the total fat.

To figure the number of grams of fat that 30 percent represents, start with your total number of daily calories. Drop the last digit and then divide the remaining number by 3. So if you allow yourself 1,800 calories for the day, divide 180 by 3 to get 60 grams of fat as your daily limit.