Nutrition labels can be very confusing if you don’t know what to look for. They show the basics of carbs, fat, and protein, but there is a lot of additional information thrown in. There are a lot of numbers and percentages, and sometimes multiple ratios to account for the addition of other ingredients, such as with cereal and milk.
Fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, and meats don’t come with nutrition labels, they are mainly found on packaged things like chips, crackers, bread, yogurt, and cookies. Here’s what you need to know to make sense of these labels.
- Check the portion size, and compare it to the package. This will help you figure out how many portions are in the pack, and help you decide if it is worth eating.
- The next row down lists total calories, and calories from fat. If you divide calories from fat into total calories, you will get the percentage of calories from fat. This percentage should be less than 50%
- Total fat is important, but more important is the trans and saturated fats. Ideally, the percentage of these in any packaged foods you purchase would be 0%
- Sodium is a big number to watch out for. The average person needs about 1200mg of sodium per day, but some snack foods contain that much in one serving!! Be very mindful of the amount of sodium
- Total carbs is the measure of all carbohydrates in the product. Below that you will see fibre, and sugars. Subtract the grams of fibre from the total carbs and you will get the net carbs, useful if you’re following a low-carb diet. Sugars should be kept to a minimum as well.
- Protein is what will determine how long this product will keep you satisfied. Adults need 46-56 grams of protein per day, so try and pick foods that will boost that number for you.
- Vitamins and minerals are important, but many processed foods will have only negligible amounts of these.
Nutrition labels can be confusing things, but if you keep the above in mind when you’re at the grocery store, you won’t go wrong with the snacks you pick. It is always best to shop around the outside of the grocery store, where you typically find produce, lean meats, and dairy. Filling your shopping cart with mostly fresh items will not only keep you healthy, but you’ll spend less time figuring out if what you’re buying is good for you!