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Reading a nutrition label:What you should lap up!

by Aditya Anand on February 22, 2018

When you're attempting to make healthier choices, learning to read the nutrition label properly before purchasing is half the battle won. Although some advertisements may lead you up the garden path, the nutrition label and ingredients list are highly regulated, so it's important that you're able to decipher them effectively.

Here’s what you need to look for while reading a nutrition label.

  • Serving Size

Looking at the suggested serving size is extremely important for portion control. Although how many grams or ounces a particular serving contains probably isn't helpful, looking at how many servings per container can help ensure you're not overeating.

  • Calories

Counting calories just for the sake of counting calories is futile (unless you’re burning calories by just counting them!) but there is some useful information onthe nutrition labelunder this head: ‘Calories from fat’. It's usually a good idea to limit the calories from fat to about 1/3 of the total calories, though there are exceptions to this rule.For example, nuts (the edible variety!) are extremely good options for dieters despite the highfat content in nuts.

  • Check the breakdown of Fat, Carbohydrates, Protein, Cholesterol, and Sodium

There is some useful information to know about the breakdown of nutrients. Under the fat section, you can see how much of the fat is from trans-fat (which is far less common than it used to be but you should still keep a hawk eye on it), saturated fat, and healthier mono-unsaturated and poly-unsaturated fat.

You can also see how many of the carbs are from sugar in the breakdown of carbohydrates. Generally speaking, opt for foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar for higher quality carbohydrates.

The percentages on the right are your suggested daily value for a 2000 calorie diet—you'll need to adjust if you're eating more or fewer than 2000 calories. These percentages are extremely useful for things like sodium and cholesterol, which are measured in milligrams. Do you know if something with 80mg of sodium is a lot? How about 80mg of cholesterol? That's why the percentages are useful!

  • Ingredients List

Even if you're comfortable with reading the nutrition label, it's still important to see where these nutrients are coming from by looking at the ingredients list. Ingredients are always listed from most abundant to least abundant, so the first several ingredients listed are the most important.

You should also look at the quality of ingredients by following these general rules:

  • Added fiber (often in the form of "chicory root fiber") is not as good as thefiber found naturally in whole grains, fruits,and
  • Soy protein is not as good as whey or casein protein (most common in protein bars and cereals).

Now that you know what the nutrition label actually means, it'll be a lot easier to eat healthy. Eating healthy is a great thing, especially when you use the nutrition label to assist you with your food choices.

Now, read up and chomp away!