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  • Writer's pictureUVSU Nutrition

Decoding the Nutritional Label: A Guide to Making Smart Food Choices

Reading the nutrition label on a food package can be a confusing task, but it's important for making healthy choices and managing your diet. So, let's break it down. The label has various components, including serving size, calories, macronutrients, cholesterol and sodium, vitamins and minerals, percent DV, and the ingredient list.

First and foremost, you want to pay attention to the serving size and the number of servings per container. This will help you understand the amount of nutrients you're consuming. For example, if a food package says it has two servings and you eat the entire thing, you're actually consuming twice the nutrients listed on the label.

Next, the number of calories per serving will give you an idea of the energy you'll get from that food. This can vary depending on your age, gender, weight, height, and activity level, but most adults need around 2000-2500 calories a day. It's always a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to figure out your specific calorie needs.

The three macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins, and fats – are also important to pay attention to. They provide your body with energy and are listed in grams per serving, along with the percentage of your daily value (DV) that they contribute. Just remember that carbohydrates and proteins both provide 4 calories per gram, while fats provide 9 calories per gram. Aim for a balanced amount of these nutrients, with an emphasis on complex carbs and lean proteins.

Cholesterol and sodium are two other nutrients to watch out for. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in animal-based foods and too much of it can lead to heart disease. The daily value (DV) for cholesterol is 300 mg. Sodium is a mineral that regulates fluid balance, but too much of it can cause high blood pressure. The DV for sodium is 2300 mg. Try to choose foods that are low in both of these nutrients, especially if you have high blood pressure or are at risk for heart disease.

The nutrition label will also list the amounts of various vitamins and minerals per serving, which are important for maintaining good health and preventing deficiencies. Some examples include vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The percent DV is a useful tool for comparing the nutrient content of different foods and tells you what percentage of your daily recommended intake of a particular nutrient is provided by one serving of the food.

Finally, the ingredient list is located at the bottom of the label and lists all the ingredients in the food product in order of predominance, with the most predominant ingredient listed first. It's a good idea to check this list to see what you're actually eating. Try to choose foods with shorter ingredient lists and ingredients that you recognize and can pronounce.

Taking the time to understand the nutrition label can help you make informed decisions about the foods you eat. By paying attention to serving size, calories, macronutrients, cholesterol and sodium, vitamins and minerals, percent DV, and the ingredient list, you can choose foods that are nutritious and meet your individual needs and goals. Don't hesitate to reach out to a healthcare professional or registered dietitian if you have any questions!

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