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How to Read Nutrition Labels

January 4, 2019 rachelsimson

How to Read Nutrition Labels

January 4, 2019 Rachel Simson, MS, RD, CDN

What’s your grocery shopping routine? Wegmans, Instacart, Aldi, Trader Joe’s, your local co-op or farmer’s market … the possibilities are endless to stock your kitchen with delicious and nutritious food. Fresh produce should lead the way in your shopping (we’re looking at you, leafy greens), but when purchasing packaged food, you can make smart decisions by knowing how to efficiently read the label.

1. Serving Size (Blue)

This is what can trick you! Compare your portion size (the amount you actually eat) to the serving size listed on the label. Some listed serving sizes can be ridiculous – chances are you’re probably eating more than 2 tablespoons of hummus! Also watch out for different brands changing up the serving size for the same type of food.

2. Control Calories (Red)

This is where you’ll find the amount of calories and calories from fat per each serving of that food (don’t forget to adjust if you eat more than one serving). Apps like MyFitnessPal can help you track calories, and determine the optimal amount you should aim for each day to meet your goals in a healthy way.

3. Limit These Nutrients (Yellow)

Fat, sodium and cholesterol may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers. Trans fat and saturated fat in particular raise your bad cholesterol levels, which can lead to a variety of health problems. Select foods that are low in these areas.

4. The Good Nutrients (Green)

Consuming adequate amounts of potassium, fiber, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C may promote good health and reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Some Americans do not eat enough foods filled with these healthy nutrients, so keep an eye on labels to help you make better choices.

5. The 5/20 Rule (Purple)

The Percent Daily Value (DV) section is helpful to evaluate how a particular food fits into your daily nutrient intake. Percent daily value is usually based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet so you may need to adjust the percentages based on your individual caloric needs. See the footnote section of the label to learn the exact amounts to watch for.
Always remember the 5/20 rule: 5% or less of bad nutrients and 20% or more of the good ones! 5% DV or less is considered low (aim low for total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium) and 20% DV or more is high (aim high for vitamins, minerals and fiber).

For more tips, check out the FDA’s handy nutrition label guide.

Be sure to check out Rachel’s blog: BUFFALO DIETITIAN: Buffalo Girl with Curls and Curves.

Rachel Simson, MS, RD, CDN
Rachel Simson, MS, RD, CDN

Rachel is a Clinical Dietitian at Roswell Park, and also runs her own blog called BUFFALO DIETITIAN: Buffalo Girl with Curls and Curves!

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