Start by checking the serving size to see how many total servings are in the package.
Calories listed on the nutrition facts label are the total number of calories per serving.
Note that if you eat multiple servings, you will need to do a little math to determine how many calories you consumed. For example, this Nutrition Facts Label shows 200 calories per 3 ounce serving. If you consume both servings in the container (6 ounces), then you will have actually consumed 400 calories.
Choose foods that have lower amounts of total, saturated and trans fat. Too much fat in your food choices may contribute to a higher weight, heart disease, and cancer. On the nutrition facts label, total fat includes the amount of saturated and trans fat listed. Total fat also will be represented in calories listed as “calories from fat”. Try to choose items that do not have more than 30 percent of their calories from fat, which can be calculated by dividing “calories from fat” by “calories.” In this example, it would 135 calories from total fat/200 calories = 67.5% calories from fat. Obviously, way above the 30% recommendation.
Cholesterol is similar to fat in that too much cholesterol can lead to heart disease. It’s best to stay below 300 mg of cholesterol daily.
Sodium is salt. Too much sodium can wreak havoc on our blood pressure and also cause us to retain water, causing weight gain. Aim for less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is equal to 1 teaspoon of salt. Purchase fresh, plain frozen or canned vegetables with “no added salt". Choose fresh proteins without marinades and unseasoned grains such as rice and pasta. Use herbs, salt-free seasonings, and flavored vinegar to enhance the flavor of any foods and skip adding salt to your food at the table.
Total carbohydrate on the label includes all three types of carbohydrate: sugar, starch and fiber. It's important to use the total grams when counting carbs or choosing which foods. As of January 2021, all labels will also include "added sugars." If sugar alcohols are included, they would be listed here as well.
Fiber receives a great deal of praise and rightfully so! Fiber helps lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, maintain healthy blood sugar levels and keep our digestive system running smoothly. It also can help decrease water retention and help us feel fuller with fewer calories. Fiber is a miracle nutrient that should be a part of every meal and snack. Always choose foods with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving.
Protein is important, but we don’t need to consume it like a bodybuilder to gain benefits. Protein helps keep our muscles strong and also helps keep us energized and feeling fuller throughout the day. Our bodies do not break down proteins as quickly as carbohydrates, so when choosing food options, seek out items that contain at least 7 grams of protein for a snack and 21 grams of protein for a meal.
Potassium is a mineral that your body needs to work properly. It is a type of electrolyte. Electrolytes like potassium help keep your heartbeat regular and your muscles contracting. They help bring nutrients into your cells. They also help move waste out of your cells. Your doctor may ask you to cut back on the potassium in your diet if your kidneys are not working as they should. Talk to your doctor about your potassium needs.
Quick Guide to Daily Value: The daily value percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, which may be more or less than your recommended daily calories. This guide was created to meet the average American’s recommended daily value.
The percent daily value will provide the percentage of a nutrient in one serving of food and how it meets the recommendation for a 2,000 calorie diet. For example, this Nutrition Facts Label shows 650 mg of sodium per serving, which is 28% of the daily value of sodium for a 2,000 calorie diet.
Even though the daily value percentages might not meet your specific daily needs, they can be used as a quick guide to determining if a food item has a high or low amount of a specific nutrient. Five percent or less is low and 20 percent or more is high. Choose foods that are high in fiber and protein and low in fat, cholesterol, and sodium.
Understanding Manufacturer Claims
Manufacturers put nutritional claims on the front of their packaging to sell more product. Here is a guide to understanding what those nutritional claims mean:
Low Calorie: Less than 40 calories per serving
Calorie Free: Less than 5 calories per serving
Fat-Free: Less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
Sugar-Free: Less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving
High Fiber: 5 grams or more of fiber per serving
Low Cholesterol: Less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving
Low Sodium: Less than 140 mg of sodium per serving