Most people don’t take the time to read nutrition labels when filling their carts at the grocery store, but doing so can help you consume healthier products. Below, we’ve compiled some useful pointers.
Understand the Serving Size Information
The top of an ingredient label usually has serving size information that includes:
- The number of servings per package
- The amount of calories per serving
Keep in mind that the nutrients and percentages listed are only relevant to a single serving, not the whole package. So, if you eat a whole package of peanuts that had two servings in it, and there’s 300 calories per serving, you actually consumed 600 calories.
Know the Sensible Limits
Assuming you are an adult with a daily intake goal of 2,000 calories, there are certain nutrients that experts say should be limited in your diet. For example, the American Heart Association recommends that you should only eat 11-13 grams of saturated fat per day and to try to completely avoid trans fats. As far as your sodium intake each day, aim for no more than 1,500 milligrams.
Check the Percentages
In association with every description on a nutrition label, you’ll see a total amount, then a percentage. A label might say “Total Carbohydrate, 37 grams, 12%”. The percentage is a portion of the full amount of what you should eat each day. If you ate one serving of a food that contained 37 grams of carbohydrates, that was 12 percent of the recommended amount of carbohydrates you should get in one day.
Look for the Daily Values Chart
Most nutrition labels have a standardized bottom section with a chart that indicates the percentages of nutrients that the average person should get per day. That’s helpful if you need a quick refresher and don’t want to have to memorize a bunch of numerical figures before browsing grocery store aisles.
For example, the daily values chart usually makes suggestions for people who eat either 2,000 or 2,500 calories per day. It discusses things like cholesterol, dietary fiber, and sodium. The listed amounts are just recommendations, not hard and fast rules, but they’re still worthwhile as a basic guide so you can see nutritional value at a glance.
Gauge Your Daily Protein Needs
You may notice that a nutrition label says how much protein a food contains, but won’t include a daily value percentage. That’s because protein needs differ based on things like your general diet and activity level. Vegetarians, for example, often need to be especially careful about getting adequate amounts of protein since they’re not getting it from meat. Your doctor can give advice about how much protein you should try to consume each day, as well as answer any other dietary questions.
Nutrition labels may look daunting at first, but they’re not hard to understand once you know what you’re looking at. Armed with these guidelines, you can get a better handle on what you’re putting into your shopping cart—and your body.