Basics of the Food Label
The following is a quick guide to reading the Nutrition Facts Panel:
Start with the Serving Size
- Look here for both the serving size (the amount for one serving) and the number of servings in the package.
- Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the panel. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you are getting twice the calories, fat and other nutrients listed on the label.
Check Out the Total Calories and Fat
- Find out how many calories are in a single serving and the number of calories from fat. It’s smart to cut back on calories and fat if you are watching your weight.
Limit Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium
Eating less fat, cholesterol and sodium may help reduce your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer.
- Total fat includes saturated, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated and trans fat. Look for less than 3 grams of total fat per serving.
- Saturated fat and trans fat are linked to an increased risk of heart disease.
- High levels of sodium can add up to high blood pressure. Look for less than 300 mg per serving.
Get Enough Vitamins, Minerals and Fiber
- Eat more fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and iron to maintain good health and help reduce your risk of certain health problems such as osteoporosis and anemia.
- Look for 3 grams of fiber or more.
- Choose more fruits and vegetables to get more of these nutrients.
You know about fat and calories, but it is important to also know the additional nutrients on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
- Protein – Most Americans eat more protein than they need. Eat moderate portions of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese, plus beans, peanut butter and nuts.
- Carbohydrates – There are three types of carbohydrates: sugars, starches and fiber. Eat whole-grain breads, cereals, rice and pasta plus fruits and vegetables.
- Sugars – Simple carbohydrates or sugars occur naturally in foods such as fruit juice (fructose) or come from refined sources such as table sugar (sucrose) or corn syrup.
Check the Ingredient List
Foods with more than one ingredient must have an ingredient list on the label. Ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. Those in the largest amounts are listed first. This information is particularly helpful to individuals with food sensitivities or allergies.
1. A healthy diet includes a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day.
Eating 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day can decrease the risk of heart disease, cancer, diverticulosis, and cataracts by 20-40%. To get 5 servings a day, eat a piece of fruit with each meal and eat veggies with lunch and supper.
2. A healthy diet includes whole grains.
Whole grains have been associated with a decreased risk of chronic disease. Some examples of whole grains include:
3. A healthy diet includes omega 3 and monounsaturated fat.
Some fats help prevent chronic disease and should be included in our diets, including:
- Olive oil and canola oil – 1 or 2 tablespoons daily.
- Nuts, preferably dry roasted – about ¼ cup daily.
- Peanut butter, preferably natural – up to 2 tablespoons daily.
- Flax seeds (ground) – up to 2 tablespoons daily.
Other healthy fat sources are found in fatty fish, such as trout, tuna, herring, salmon, mackerel, and sardines. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish 2-3 times per week.
4. A healthy diet is minimally processed.
Healthy eaters tend to shop around the perimeter of the grocery store where produce, dairy, fresh meats, and seafood are found. The inner aisles typically contain the more processed food items. Processed items tend to be high in trans fat, sugar, and sodium.
- Trans Fat – Potato chips, cookies, candy bars, crackers.
- Sugar – Breakfast cereals, soda, cakes, ice cream, cookies, candy.
- Sodium – Canned soups, boxed meals, TV dinners, pretzels, frozen pizzas.
5. A healthy diet is mostly plant based.
Grains and vegetables should take up most of the area on your dinner plate, complemented with a modest portion of lean meat. Replacing meat with vegetarian sources of protein, like beans, can help prevent chronic disease.
Healthy Eating On the Run
Consumers increasingly want fast, easy and good-tasting foods to fit a busy lifestyle. Whether it’s fast food, takeout or a sit down restaurant, eating out has become part of the American lifestyle. Today, food is available almost everywhere we go – schools, businesses, drugstores, convenience stores, bookstores, supermarkets, vending machines, sports and cultural events and recreation centers.
The following tips will help you make wise food choices:
- Choose fried foods only sometimes — go for grilled, broiled, or steamed foods more often.
- Order the regular or kid-size portion. Mega-sized servings are probably more than you need.
- Make milk or a low fat shake your beverage for an extra calcium boost.
- Try a side salad instead of fries.
- Split your order. Share fries or an extra large sandwich with a friend.
- Boost the nutrients in all kinds of sandwiches by adding tomato, peppers or other vegetables.
- For a lighter meal, order an appetizer for your entrée.
- Go easy on condiments, special sauces and dressings on sandwiches and salads. Ask for mustard, ketchup, salsa or low fat spreads and dressings.
- At the salad bar, pile on the dark leafy greens, carrots, peppers and other fresh vegetables. Lighten up on mayonnaise-based salads and high fat toppings.
- A baked potato offers more fiber and fewer calories than fries, just go light on the sour cream and butter. Top your potato with broccoli, a small amount of cheese or salsa.
- At the deli or sub shop, choose lean beef, ham, turkey, or chicken on whole grain bread.