Nutrition Articles

Interpreting Nutrition Labels

WFL Week 2

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Look at "Total Fat" on the mac and cheese label. The 18% daily value is close to the high point, but if you ate the whole package, you actually ate 36% of the recommended daily amount of fat (well above our benchmark of 20%). That amount, coming from just one source of food in a day, contributes a lot of fat to your daily diet. It would leave you 64% (100% - 36% = 64%) of your fat allowance for all other meals, drinks, and snacks you would eat that day.

If your daily goal is well below 2,000 calories for your weight loss plan, then use the percents as a frame of reference (realizing you need to be below the percents shown, per serving). Or, you may find it simpler to keep track of grams and milligrams instead of the percents. The Nutrition Facts footnote gives a scale in grams and milligrams for recommended amounts of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and fiber based on 2,000- and 2,500- calorie diets. (This footnote does not appear on small packages where there is no room for it.)

The percent daily value also offers a great way to watch your diet without completely giving up your favorite foods. For example, if you ate one serving of macaroni and cheese but ensured you had a low fat intake for all other foods you ate that day, you made a successful trade off. When you really want a food that is high in fat, always balance it with healthy low-fat foods in the same day.

Quick Interpretation Guide
  • Start at the top with Serving Size and Servings Per Container. Adjust all measurements below this point according to the serving size you will eat.
  • Look at the number of calories per serving (including how many calories are from fat).
  • Limit these nutrients: total fat (including saturated and trans fat), cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Get plenty of these nutrients: fiber, vitamins, calcium, and iron
  • Use the % Daily Value to determine what is a high or low number for your daily diet. 5% or less is low; 20% or more is high.

Hunting for Hidden Sugar
Sugar is another ingredient that many people pay close attention to. Ready for a little experiment? Grab a jar of sugar, a measuring spoon, a plate and a can of regular soda. Then, dump one teaspoon of sugar onto the plate. Repeat this nine more times. Do you know what you have, besides a mess? The amount of sugar in one 12-ounce can of soda! Just look at that mound!
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