Learning About Reading Food Labels

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Nutrition Facts food label

What can you learn from Nutrition Facts food labels?

Labels on packaged, canned, and frozen foods can tell you a lot about what's in the food you eat. The Nutrition Facts label lists the amount of certain nutrients in foods. The list of ingredients tells you what is used to make the food. The ingredients are listed in the order of how much is in the product, from the most to the least.

How can you use Nutrition Facts food labels?

Read the Nutrition Facts to help you eat a balanced diet that includes the nutrients your body needs.

Pay attention to serving size.

All of the nutrition information on a food label is based on the serving size listed on the label. If you eat more or less, you'll need to adjust the other numbers. So, for example, a package may contain two servings with 10 grams of protein per serving. If you eat the whole package, you've eaten 20 grams of protein.

Check the % Daily Value, or % DV.

The % DV helps you know how much of different nutrients the food provides. It's a percentage based on eating 2,000 calories a day. The amount of calories you need depends on your age, sex, and activity level.

The % DV is based on how much of a certain nutrient your body needs each day. It shows how much of the nutrient is in that food. For example, the DV for calcium is 1,300 mg. If one serving of a food has 260 mg of calcium, the label would say the food has 20% of the DV for calcium. That means one serving of the food gives you 20% of the calcium you need that day.

What nutrients do these labels include?

The Nutrition Facts label gives you information about these nutrients:

Calories.

A calorie is a measure of energy that a food provides. Everything your body does, from keeping your heart beating to moving and thinking, uses calories. Your body needs a certain number of calories each day to do its work.

Fats.

Fat is an important source of energy. It also helps your body absorb certain vitamins. Different foods have different types of fatty acids, or fats. The unsaturated fats are more healthy. Saturated fats and trans fats are not as healthy for your body.

Cholesterol.

This is a type of waxy substance that your body needs to work well. For example, it helps your body digest fat. Your liver makes some cholesterol. You also get some from the food you eat.

Sodium.

Your body needs sodium to work as it should. Too much sodium can raise blood pressure in some people. Many processed and packaged foods are very high in sodium. Salt is the most well-known source of sodium.

Carbohydrates.

Carbs are an important source of energy for your body. Your brain and nervous system depend on carbs for their fuel. Carbs come in two forms: starch and sugar. They both provide fuel for your body.

Dietary fiber.

Fiber is the part of plant foods—including fruits, vegetables, and grains—that your body can't digest or absorb. It's important for the health of your intestine. It's also helpful for heart health and keeping blood sugar stable.

Total sugars.

Sugar in food can occur naturally (such as in cow's milk or fruit). Or it may be added to food (such as in candy or soda). Foods that naturally have sugar tend to have more vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients compared to foods with a large amount of added sugar.

Protein.

Protein gives you energy. Your body also needs protein to make new cells, build muscles, and support your immune system.

Vitamin D.

Vitamin D's roles in your body include helping you absorb calcium. If you don't get enough, you could have thin and brittle bones (osteoporosis) in later years. Children who don't get enough may not grow properly.

Calcium.

Your body needs calcium to make bones and teeth. It also helps your blood to clot and your heart to work well.

Iron.

Your body uses iron to make hemoglobin for red blood cells. Hemoglobin carries oxygen from the lungs to cells all through your body.

Potassium.

This mineral helps keep fluids balanced in your body. And it helps your nerves, muscles, and heart work well.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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