The first place to look at is the Serving Size. Make sure to pay close attention to the serving per container section.
For example, if you are looking at a box of mac and cheese, one box could have 3 servings in the container. If you plan on eating the entire box, you have to multiply the calories, sugars, and other nutrients by 3 to truly understand the amount and quality of the food that you are going to consume.
Calories (and Calories from Fat)
A calorie is a measure of how much energy you will gain by eating this food. To effectively lose weight, energy (calories) you consume should be less than the energy you use throughout the day. Knowing the number of calories you consume in a day is very important to losing, maintaining, or gaining weight.
Note: The number of servings you will consume will determine how many calories you will consume.
A General Guide to Calories:
- 40 calories is low
- 100 Calories is Moderate
- 400+ Calories is High
According to the CDC, the average American consumes 33% of their calories from fat. If your goal is to lose weight and gain a healthy lifestyle, minimizing your calories from fat is a great place to start.
When you plan to change your diet, do more than just focus on calories in and calories out. Selecting foods that are high in vitamins and minerals, while also low in fat, cholesterol, sodium is important. The CDC states that the average American consumes 3,375 mg of sodium. The recommended amount is 2,400 mg! Eating an excess of fat and sodium can lead to chronic preventable diseases like heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.
Not every item on the nutrition label should have low numbers. Nutrients such as dietary fiber, vitamin A & C, calcium, and iron are all needed. These nutrients can help prevent diseases such as osteoporosis and promote healthy bowel movements.
The nutrients section is valuable in that you can lower the more damaging nutrients and also increase protective nutrients.
This area is the most overlooked area of the nutrition label, but it can be the most valuable. The footnote explains how much a certain nutrient you can consume based on a 2,000 calorie diet. This statement is the same across all food labels. Depending on your health goal, your daily calories consumption can be more or less than 2,000 calories.
This footnote is the easy way to make sure that the food you are consuming fits within your health goals without having to remember lots of figures.
While this not a part of the nutrition label, it is very important to look over. Each ingredient is listed in order by weight. Meaning the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is last.
Things to look out for:
- How soon into the ingredient list sugar (or its other names) is If sugar is in the first three ingredients, it can be a sign that the food is not healthy or nutrient dense.
- Any ingredients you do not know. If there is something on the list that you don’t know, look it up to see if it fits within your healthy lifestyle.
- Possible allergens such as nuts or shellfish.
Remember, the goal with a healthy diet is a balance; fats and sodium are not completely evil and unhealthy. Eating too much of any food causes health issues. The key to a healthy diet is to find the middle ground and work on getting all of your nutrients in even amounts.
Eating for a healthy lifestyle can seem overwhelming. Mobile apps such a MyFitnessPal by UnderArmor and LoseIt! are very helpful in maintaining your balance.