Have you ever felt confused reading a nutrition label? There are a ton of numbers, grams, and percentages. What does it all mean? One of the most important things you can do when grocery shopping is read the nutrition label to make informed decisions and ensure that you are getting all the right foods in your diet. This article will walk you through how to assess a nutrition facts label and use it to make wise food decisions.
What Does a Nutrition Label Include?
A nutrition label includes many different parts:
How Do I Use the Nutrition Label to Make Better Choices?
Now that we’ve identified the different components of a nutrition label, let’s talk about how to apply our knowledge. A helpful tool in determining whether a nutrient is high or low in a particular food is using the 5/20 rule:
- Any nutrient close to 5% DV on the label is considered low for that nutrient
- Any nutrient close to 20% DV on the label is considered high for that nutrient
Using the nutrition label shown above, let’s go through an example. There is 160 mg of sodium per serving which translates to 7% DV. Since that number is closer to 5%, you can determine that food is relatively low in sodium. Get the hang of it?
Let’s use fiber as another example. The label shows 4 g of fiber per serving translating to 14% DV. This number is closer to 20%, making it a good source of fiber.
Nutrients To Pay Attention To
Saturated Fat: A type of fat that has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke when consumed in excess. Saturated fat is found naturally in many animal foods and some oils. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that no more than 10% of your calories should come from saturated fatAim to choose foods with a low saturated fat content.
Sodium: Sodium is found in many different foods, but the most significant source of sodium intake comes from processed/packaged foods. Of course, our bodies need sodium, but individuals tend to get way more than they need. Excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends an intake of no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day for a healthy eating pattern.
Fiber: Fiber is a type of carbohydrate and is excellent for digestive health, promoting satiety, and lowering the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The U.S Institute of Medicine recommends a fiber intake of 38 g per day for men and 25 g per day for women. Unfortunately, about 95% of Americans don’t get the recommended amount of fiber in their day. Sources include many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but can be found in packaged foods as well. Keeping an eye on the fiber content of foods is a great way to increase your intake!
Added Sugars: Different from naturally occurring sugars found in fruits or dairy products, added sugars are incorporated in the preparation or processing of food. These types of sugars contribute calories to your diet, but no nutrients. Weight gain and diabetes are just a few health issues linked to overconsumption of added sugarsThe Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting the intake of added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories. For example, if you eat 2,000 calories per day, that would be less than 200 calories coming from added sugars.
Protein: Protein is essential for growth, building muscle, and increases the feeling of fullness. The exact amount of protein needed for each person differs based on many different factors such as weight, activity level, etc. However, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein is 10-35% of calories should come from protein.(5)
Try using these tips and tricks next time you’re at the grocery store and want to see if a specific food is worth buying. Maybe you want a food product that’s a good source of protein. Or perhaps you want to choose a product that doesn’t have a ton of added sugars. Using the 5/20 rule is an easy way to make a quick decision without difficulty.
Are you looking for more assistance? Schedule a free 15-minute consultation with Zainab Haque, RDN, LDN to learn more!
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