In order to have a healthy diet, it is important to know exactly what and how much you are eating. There is so much nutritional information on the Internet that is either unreliable or not well-researched, but one source that you can always rely on and easily find is the nutrition facts on food labels. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration mandates and regulates that all food and beverages are appropriately labeled with information about ingredients, calories, fat information, cholesterol, sodium, protein, carbohydrates, nutrients, and some vitamins.
Many people look at the side of the box at the nutrition facts and see a jumble of numbers and a list of unpronounceable words and only look at the amount of calories. While counting calories is an important part of keeping track of your diet, it should not be the only determinant on what and how much you eat. Fat, protein, and carbohydrates are the core nutrients of the body, and it is key get adequate amounts of each in your daily diet. The different components of the nutrition facts panel can at times be confusing or overwhelming, but with a little explanation and practice, you will be able to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
The units of serving size vary per product, and can be anything from slice, grams, pouch, and other household terms. It is important to pay attention to the serving size in order to determine how much of each nutrient you have consumed. For example, if a serving consists of twenty grams and each serving has 150 calories, forty grams would be two servings and 300 calories. That would mean you would also double the amount of every nutrient and daily value listed.
The percent daily value is a very helpful tool to use in determining how much a single serving of a product has in relation to how much you should consume in the entire day. These percentage values are based on a 2000 calorie per day die, suggested by the FDA. If you do not want to bother with knowing the specific amounts of nutrients are adequate for your diet, this is an excellent and quick tool. For example, if the total amount of fat percentage per serving in a product is 10%, that would mean that you consumed one-tenth of the amount of fat that is recommended per day.
Many people tend to shy away from items that are high in fat, but it is an essential part to the diet and the body cannot process without it. Fat has nine calories per gram, so it is more “expensive” than the other nutrients. It is recommended by sites such as World’s Healthiest Foods that 30% of your total calorie intake be from fat, which totals to around 67 grams of fat per day. It is also suggested that saturated fat, or animal fat intake, should be at 10% of your daily calories, and unsaturated fats, or plant fats, should be 20%. Trans-fat, which is man-made and created to prolong shelf life, should be kept to the smallest amount possible.
In Kendell and colloegues’ article examining the total level of cholersterol needed in your diet, it is recommended that you consume less than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day, due to the fact that a diet high in cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease and other health complications in the future. The main source of cholesterol is in fatty animal products.
Current dietary guidelines, stated by the FDA and other health advisors, state that you should consume less than 2400 milligrams of sodium per day.
As suggested by BBC Health, Carbohydrates make up most of the body’s nutrient intake. You should consume roughly 300 grams of carbohydrates per day, which constitutes 60% of the calories in your diet with carbohydrates having four calories per gram. Twenty-five grams of this should be in the form of fiber. Sugars, which are also carbohydrates, should be consumed at a minimum.
The amount of protein you should consume in a day varies by weight. Workoutaid.com states that to determine this value, multiply your weight in pounds by .37 to get the weight in grams you should eat of protein. Protein has four calories per gram. For example, a 150 pound person should consume 55 grams of protein per day. Daily value is not included for protein because of this reason and also because the testing required is very expensive.
Ingredients that make up the product are listed in descending order by weight. For example, if you are looking to avoid sugar, make sure that it is not listed as one of the top ingredients. This means it is a prevalent ingredient.
Vitamins and Minerals
The percentage of daily values for vitamins and minerals are listed toward the bottom of the nutrition facts, and present a simple panel of how much of each is present in one serving.
It is important to know exactly what you’re eating so you can stay on track with your diet and not over or under eat. With this guide in mind, keeping track of your nutritional consumption should become a simple task rather than a jumble of calculations and scientific words.
Photo by Stuart Miles