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Reading Food Labels – A Skill To Master

Posted Nov 11 2009 10:03pm

reading_food_labelsOne of the most important skills you can master is being able to read  food labels in order to figure out exactly what you are getting from your foods. Let’s look at the example from the picture in this blog post and take the information from top to bottom…

Ready to learn reading food labels? Let’s move on…

Serving Size and Servings per Container:

Pay attention to this closely. Many people assume that small packages of cookies or crackers, or medium-sized beverage containers are single servings. But this may not be the case. An “official” serving of a beverage is 8 ounces, but many drinks are packaged in 16 oz. containers or larger. All the nutrition facts on the label are for one serving. If you drink a 16 oz. beverage, you will be drinking twice the number of calories on the nutrition facts panel, since you’ll be taking in two servings. You will need to double all the information on the label to determine exactly what you are taking in.

Calories, Fat, Carbohydrate and Protein:

As with all the other nutrients, these are the amounts per serving. In the example above, one cup of Chunky, Cheesy, Rich and Creamy Broccoli Soup has 250 calories. But if you consume the whole package (two servings), you will have taken in 500 calories. In addition to the total fat per serving, the label also tells you the calories from fat, so you can do a quick calculation in your head of what percentage of calories you are eating from fat. In the example, there are 135 calories from fat out of a total of 250 calories. You can see right away that more than half the calories in the soup come from fat. The label also tells you how much of the fat is saturated fat or trans fat. “Total Carbohydrate” tells you, again, how much carbohydrate per serving. Keep in mind that this includes natural sources, such as the natural sugars in milk or fruit, so it’s not always easy to tell from the line labeled “Sugars” where the sugar is coming from without looking at the ingredients list. If a cereal has little added sugar–but contains raisins–the sugar content may look high, but it’s just from the natural fruit sugar. Look at the ingredients list for sugar: sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, brown rice syrup, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, high fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, maltodextrin, molasses, raw sugar, turbinado sugar and sucrose are all added sugars. Sometimes food manufacturers use a number of sweeteners in a product–each in small amounts–so the ingredients are “sprinkled” throughout the ingredients list, but taken together they can sometimes add up significantly.

Fiber and sugars are part of the total carbohydrate count. A food with 5 grams or more of fiber per serving is a good source of fiber.

% Daily Value:

Daily Values are standard values developed by the Food and Drug Administration for use on food labels. They are standards used to compare the amount of a nutrient in a food to the amount that is recommended per day, but is based on a 2,000 calorie diet that may not apply to everyone. Even if you know that you don’t require that many calories, you can still look at these values to see if a particular food is high or low in a nutrient that you are interested in. In the example above, one serving of the soup provides 30 percent of the Daily Value for calcium, which is quite a bit. But it also has 25 percent of the Daily Value for fat–that means that one fourth of the recommended fat for the day is packed into 1 cup of soup–that’s a lot of fat per serving!

Here are some things to visualize when you are looking at a food label:

Every 5 grams of fat is a teaspoon of fat (or a pat of butter). In the example above, each cup serving of soup has 15 grams of fat–that’s three teaspoons (or one tablespoon), or three pats of butter per serving! If you consume the whole can (two servings), then you are consuming six pats of butter!

Every 4 grams of sugar is a teaspoon. The soup above has very little sugar–only 2 grams per serving, or about a half a teaspoon. But a 16 oz. bottle of sweetened tea might have 30 grams per serving (and remember, the bottle is two servings of 8 ounces each). If you drink the whole bottle, you’ll be drinking 60 grams of sugar–that’s 15 teaspoons, or five tablespoons, or just under 1/3 cup!

Anyway, it always worth taking a good look at food labels each time you are at the supermarket to choose the kind of food to buy.

Don’t you think that reading food labels is such a useful skill to master?

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