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Enjoy a Treat, Not a Trick

Read the Nutrition Label
If you reference the label on a box of regular cookies versus reduced-fat cookies, you might be surprised what you learn. Though the fat content may be lower on the reduced-fat selection, the other amounts per serving may be worse than what you find in the regular box of cookies. How do you know which is better to choose?

Weigh all the factors included on the nutrition label to determine what is best for your body. In order to do this, you need to know how to read the nutrition label. Understanding the information on the label reveals valuable knowledge to creating a healthier you.

The section that references the nutritional value is the Nutrition Facts. The purpose of the label is to provide nutritional information for a balanced diet and to reveal possible allergens. It includes information about servings, amounts per serving, percent daily value and ingredients. Small packages, foods prepared by a small operation, and foods prepared in store are not required to include a food label.

If you have a food item handy, take a look at the Nutrition Facts section on the back of the packaging. Learn more about this nutrition label:

Servings
Servings are broken down by “Serving Size” and “Servings Per Container.” The serving size is the amount measured to create a portion. Servings per container reveal how many servings are included in the entire package. A small bag of pretzels may contain two servings per package. Realize that if you eat the entire bag, you need to double the nutritional values mentioned below. The servings were created based on what the average person consumed, so you may eat more or less than what is considered a serving.

Amount Per Serving
This section of the nutrition label breaks down the different nutrients in the food product. The Food and Drug Administration requires that the following items appear on the label in the following order:

  • total calories

  • calories from fat

  • total fat

  • saturated fat

  • cholesterol

  • sodium

  • total carbohydrate

  • dietary fiber

  • sugars

  • protein

  • vitamin A

  • vitamin C

  • calcium

  • iron

Ingredients
When you look at the ingredients of the package, the first thing listed is the primary ingredient. From there, the ingredients are listed in descending order based on weight. If you have any food allergies, check the list of items to determine whether there is anything you cannot eat. Various companies recognize common allergens that are included in their product by specifying them in bold print below the list of ingredients.

Some packages include a separate section mentioning commodities manufactured at the same place as the product you are consuming. Including such information makes you aware of ingredients that potentially mixed with the product you chose.

Example:
Allergy Warning: Manufactured in a facility that process milk, soybeans.

Percent Daily Value
This section of the Nutrition Facts addresses the recommended servings of a particular nutrient in one serving of food. The Food and Drug Administration determined that the average person on a regulated diet consumes 2,000 calories a day. (Recognize you’re your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.) Following this calorie diet, the daily value percentages represent the amount of nutrients a person uses when consuming a particular food product.

The American Diabetes Association says:

A product is:

  • a good source of a particular nutrient if one serving provides 10 to 19% of the Daily Value

  • high in a given nutrient if it contains 20% or more of the Daily Value

  • low in that nutrient if the Daily Value is 5% or less

When you read the Nutrition Facts, watch out for “mystery fats,” which are hidden fat content on the nutrition label. If there is a negligible amount of fat, the manufacturer is not required to include it on the nutrition label. Therefore, the more of that product you consume, the more grams of fat you might be accumulating. (The same principle applies to sodium, fiber, carbohydrates, etc.)

Discuss your dietary needs with your doctor or nutritionist to start eating a healthy diet. By understanding the Nutrition Facts label, you set yourself up to consume foods that are friendly to your caloric and allergen specifications. Implement a healthy lifestyle by evaluating the information on the package and consuming the nutrients your body needs. Your body thanks you.