One of the most common healthy eating tips is to eat more whole foods and less packaged foods. Yes that is ideal but it’s not always practical. Packaged foods provide a lot of convenience. They are more shelf stable and can be stored in our kitchens to be available when needed. In addition, packaged foods are not always unhealthy, you just need to know how to read the labels.
It is the job of food companies to encourage us to purchase their products so a lot of marketing goes into the design of packages. In addition to this marketing they are required to have a Nutrition Fact Table on the product. This table provides a lot of useful information and can help you make healthy choices. That is if you know how to read it and you read it properly.
The Nutrition Facts Table
Serving Size (2)
First is the serving size or specific amount of food that the nutrient facts are referring to. This is often overlooked and can lead you to ingest more than you intend. It is important to compare the amount listed here to the amount of food you actually intend to eat.
For example the nutrient facts table on a box of granola bars could be referring to amount in ½ of a bar however are you actually only going to eat ½ the bar? You’ll have to double all of the nutrient information in order to get the true picture of what you are eating.
If you are comparing the nutrient facts of different brands of the same food you will want to make sure that you are comparing the same amount. One brand may appear to have less calories but in fact it is for a smaller serving size.
Calories & Core Nutrients (4)
It is not mandatory to include every nutrient present in the food only the 13 core nutrients and they should always be listed in the same order.
Calories per amount of food listed is at the top. Your caloric needs vary depending on age, body size, activity level etc. Just be aware that if the calories listed are for 1 waffle and you intend to eat 2 you will need to double the calories listed to know how many calories you are consuming
Next you will see total fats with saturated & trans fats listed separately below.
Cholesterol content is listed below Fats followed by sodium
Total Carbohydrate content is next. Fiber & Sugars are divided out of the total carbohydrate content and listed separately below for reference.
Protein content is listed below carbohydrates and is then followed by Vitamin & minerals based on a recommended daily intake.
% Daily Value (3)
Beside each core nutrient you will find the percent daily value. This is a benchmark set by government institutions and is based on standards established for healthy outcomes, healthy growth & development and reduced risk of nutrition-related chronic disease. It is intended to apply to most people however should be taken more as a comparative benchmark when deciding between two products.
These are basic values not optimal values and can vary from country to country.
Below the nutrient facts you will find the list of ingredients and any health or nutrition claims.
All of the ingredients for a food are listed in descending order by weight so the ingredients listed in the greatest amount are listed first.
Health Claims (5)
It’s important to be aware of the meaning behind many nutrition or health claims as they can often be misleading.
Light for example can refer to reduced fat, lower calorie or even light tasting or light in colour.
A product needs to contain at least 2 grams of fiber to claim to be a source of fibre and no more than 3 grams of fat to be labeled low fat.
Reduced in calories means that it has at least 25% less calories than the thing it is being compared to.
Pre packaged foods can be included in a healthy diet. It just takes a little time and attention to read the fine print and determine which products, in which amounts will fit our requirements.
The nutrient facts table contains a lot of information.
As I always say, knowledge is power so when you know how to disseminate all of this information you then have the power to make healthy choices that are right for you.
Looking for other healthy eating tips? Find more on the blog here
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