Food Label Jargon: How To Improve Your Nutrition
Improving nutrition starts with being aware of what foods are healthy and unhealthy. When buying frozen, canned, or pre-packaged foods, reading food labels is a crucial part of being health conscious. Consider these fast facts about what to look for on a nutrition label.
Know your serving sizes
Start at the top of the label by looking at the serving size. Many people neglect to look at serving size and, instead, assume that a package is one serving. However, if a serving is half a cup, and the person eats a full cup, all the other information on the nutrition label will actually be doubled.
Get more of these nutrients
The next part of the food label to know is the percent daily values (DV). In general, try to choose foods that have at least 20% or more of the DV for helpful nutrients such as vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and fiber. Keep in mind that DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet, so if a person consumes less than 2,000 calories per day, those daily values will be higher than the label lists. Foods that are high in vitamin D and calcium can help build stronger bones. Calcium also helps with heart, muscle, and nerve function. Potassium can contribute to lower blood pressure, regulate water balance, and counteract the adverse effects of sodium. Soluble fiber helps to lower LDL cholesterol and insoluble fiber aids with digestion.
Cut back on these ingredients
Make sure that pre-packaged foods contain less than 100% of the DV for other ingredients. For example, people should keep saturated fats under 20g per day and limit trans fats as much as possible. People should also aim to keep sodium intake under 2,300mg daily for optimal heart health. Likewise, aim to get under 300mg of cholesterol.
Too much of a sweet thing
Some labels also list grams of added sugar. Experts recommend that men get less than 36g of added sugar daily while women limit intake to 25g. Some food labels don’t differentiate between natural sugars and added sugars. Some keywords that can indicate an item contains added sugar are dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, and sucrose.
When opting for canned fruits and vegetables, choose unsweetened fruit and vegetables without any added salt. In the frozen section, watch for added sauces that can be high in sodium. Likewise, frozen dinners are often high in both sodium and fat. When possible, choose fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. For more information about improving nutrition, speak with a healthcare provider.