Learning how to read a food nutrition label can be one of the most important things you can do for your own health. Knowing what you’re eating and how much of it is so important for keeping you and your family healthy and weight on track. In recent years, food labels have become much more user friendly and you really can know exactly what you’re putting into your body.
Your relationship with food is very important. What you eat can help to give you energy, improve your immunity, and allow you to combat many diseases. But it can also do the opposite – leave you feeling weak and even cause disease.
If you’ve never given your food much thought, reading food labels can be intimidating. There’s a lot of information there. Deciding which information is important and which isn’t can be challenging. Once you know the basics, though, you’ll read those labels with confidence.
Be Smart about Serving Size
Begin by looking at the serving size on the label. Sometimes people miss this part of the label and then have an inaccurate idea of how many calories and such are actually in the food. For example, if you have a can of soup and the label says it’s 2 servings, that means that the information on the label would be doubled if you ate the whole can.
Labels have gotten better at giving accurate information recently. For example, a can of pop used to be 1.5 or 2 servings. But now when you look at the label, one can of pop is a whole serving because most people will drink the entire thing. A 20 oz bottle, though, is more than 2 servings, even though, I know some people who will drink a 20 oz bottle of pop all on their own in one sitting as well.
Once you know the serving size, you’re ready to move on to looking at the quality of the food you’re eating. The most obvious information you can get from your food label is about the breakdown of calories.
The label will tell you how many calories are in each serving. Calories are the measurement for how much energy it takes to break down the food. The higher the calories, the longer it will take to break it down.
Your metabolism is the measure of how much energy you burn over a period of time. While we often think of exercising as burning calories, the effect of exercise is small compared to the total calories you burn.
When your heart beats, you breathe in and out, your body breaks down nutrients and makes new blood cells, so you’re burning calories. That’s why you need an average of around 2,000 calories in a day.
There are three basic bio molecules that your food can give you: proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Food labels tell you exactly how much of each you’re getting in a serving of food. The label also tells you how many grams of that food you need in a typical diet.
Depending on the label, the following are the major categories you’ll find:
- Total calories per serving
- Grams of carbohydrates
- Grams of fat
- Milligrams of sodium
- Grams of protein
- Vitamins and minerals, if any
Within those major categories are some subdivisions to help you understand even more about what you’re eating. We’ll take a look at those subdivisions and what they mean for you when it comes to your diet tomorrow.