While in a shop for buying your favorite foods, at a glance it may appear as though everything on the shelves either adds fiber to your diet or reduces fat intake. However, in order to make healthy, informed food choices, it's important to understand: food label claims; serving sizes; calorie requirements; percent daily values; and important nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Food Labeling is required for most prepared foods, such as breads, cereals, canned and frozen foods, snacks, desserts, drinks, etc. Nutrition labeling for raw produce (fruits and vegetables) and fish is voluntary. These products are referred to as ‘Conventional Foods’.
This information usually appears on the back or side of packaging under the title "Nutrition Facts." It's also displayed in grocery stores near fresh foods, like fruits, vegetables, and fish.
The nutrition facts usually include:
- A column of information — "% Daily Value" — that shows what portion of the amount of daily recommended nutrients the product provides
- Information about saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, fiber, sugar, and calories from fat
- Serving sizes that are close to the amount that people actually eat
- Health claims, such as "light" or "low fat," that must meet strict government definitions so that they are accurate and consistent from one food to another
What Do These Labels Mean?
Reduced fat means that a product has 25% less fat than the same regular brand.
Light means that the product has 50% less fat than the same regular product.
Low fat means a product has less than 3 grams of fat per serving.
Calories: A calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much energy a food provides to the body. The number of calories that's listed on the food label indicates how many calories are in one serving.
Calories From Fat: It tells the total calories in one serving that come from fat. The label lists fat so that people can monitor the amount of fat in their diets.
Calories Per Gram: These numbers show how many calories are in 1 gram of fat, carbohydrate, and protein.
Percent Daily Values: Percent daily values are listed in the right-hand column in percentages, and they tell how much of a certain nutrient a person will get from eating one serving of that food.
Total Fat: This number indicates how much fat is in a single serving of food and it's usually measured in grams. Saturated Fat and Trans Fat: The amount of saturated fat appears beneath total fat. The FDA also requires food makers to list trans fats separately on the label.
Unsaturated Fat: Unsaturated fats are also listed under total fat. These are fats that are liquid at room temperature.
Cholesterol: Cholesterol, usually measured in milligrams, is listed under the fat information. Cholesterol is important in producing vitamin D, some hormones, and in building many other important substances in the body.
Sodium: Sodium, a component of salt, is listed on the Nutrition Facts label in milligrams.
Total Carbohydrate: This number, listed in grams, combines several types of carbohydrates: dietary fibers, sugars, and other carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are the most abundant source of calories.
Dietary Fiber: Listed under total carbohydrate, dietary fiber itself has no calories and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. High-fiber diets promote bowel regularity.
Sugars: Also listed under total carbohydrate on food labels, sugars are found in most foods. Fruits contain simple sugars but also contain fiber, water, and vitamins, which make them a healthy choice.
Protein: This listing tells you how much protein is in a single serving of a food and is usually measured in grams.
Vitamin A and Vitamin C: Vitamins A and C are two especially important vitamins, which is why they're required to be listed on the Nutrition Facts label.
Calcium and Iron: The percentages of these two important minerals are required on labels and measured in percent daily values.