Understanding Food Labels

Understanding food labels can help you make healthier options. Use this guide to help you with grocery shopping. 

Sample Macaroni & Cheese Food Label

 Sample Macaroni and Cheese Nutrition Facts.
1.  Start with the serving size and the number of servings in the package.
In this example, one serving of macaroni and cheese is one cup, and there are two servings per container. If you ate the entire package, you would be eating two cups.

2.  Look at the total calories per serving.
Pay attention to the serving size and see how many calories you get per one serving. If you ate the whole package you would consume double the calories (500 calories) and double the other nutrients shown on the label.

Calories from Fat refers to the number of fat calories in one serving of the product. In this example, there are 110 calories from fat in one serving of macaroni and cheese. If you ate two servings, you would be eating 220 calories from fat.

3.  Limit Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium.
Keep your fat intake at 25% to 35% of your total daily calories. For a healthy adult who needs 2,000 calories per day, he or she will need to limit saturated fat to less than 16 grams; trans fat to less than 2 grams, cholesterol to less than 300 mg, and sodium to 2,400 mg or 1,500 mg.

4.  Get enough of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Calcium, and Iron.
These are essential nutrients that can improve your overall health. Eating enough of dietary fiber may reduce your cholesterol levels, and thus lower your risk of heart disease.

5.  Understanding Percent Daily Values
Daily values are recommended intake levels for different nutrients based on a 2,000 calorie diet. The Percent Daily Values help you to compare between products and determine whether a nutrient is high or low in a serving. You may need more or less than these references depending on your caloric needs. In general, less than 5% daily values means low and more than 20% daily values means high.

There are no percent Daily Values for trans fat. A package that says trans fat free or 0 grams of trans fat, may contain up to 0.5 grams of trans fats. The amount of trans fats you eat can add up quickly and exceed the recommended limits if you eat more than one serving of a product containing trans fat. Look for the word “hydrogenated” in the ingredient list; if partially hydrogenated oil is listed, it means the product contains trans fats. Avoid the product if partially hydrogenated oil is stated as one of the first 3 items in the ingredient list. 

For more healthy eating ideas, talk with a Gundersen registered dietitian. Call Nutrition Therapy at (608) 775-3447 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 53447 to schedule an appointment.
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