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Understanding Nutritional Labels

Reading the nutrition label and the list of ingredients on food packaging is essential to healthful living, but nutritional information can be intimidating if one does not know what the information means. The list of ingredients is easy: if an average fourth-grade student cannot read the name of an ingredient and recognize it as a food, then don’t eat from that package. Even a child understands that real food doesn’t come from a chemistry laboratory, but the hard part is interpreting the nutritional data.

It is very important for packets to have nutrition labels as they constitute an important part of the product by informing the customers about its valuable nutrients and the benefits it can provide to the human body and keep it fit, healthy and devoid of illness. The best greens powder contains the required label along with a list of ingredients from which it was made that allows the customers to purchase it from the supermarket.

Every nutritional label on packaged food sold in the United States will list a serving size and tell how many servings of that size are inside the package. The number of calories is for the listed serving size, not for the total contents of the package. For example, suppose that the serving size of canned salmon is listed as one-quarter cup. The label states that “about 7” servings are in the can. If the number of calories is 90, that means a quarter cup of the canned salmon has 90 calories, but the entire can contains roughly seven times as many calories.

Nutrition labels are required by federal law to list Total Fat content per serving. Not all fats are the same; some fats are actually very good for you, and you would have a lot of health problems if you never ate beneficial fats. Your body requires good fats to make hormones, have healthy skin and hair, and rejuvenate the inner lining of blood vessels. Monounsaturated fats are good fats. Monounsaturated fats are your body’s friend and will not clog your arteries. Olive oil, almonds, walnuts, and flax seed are great sources of monounsaturated fat.

Saturated fats should be limited in your diet. Saturated fats are what stick in your arteries and cause cardiovascular disease. Current medical wisdom is that saturated fat consumption should remain below 30 grams per day. Saturated fat is solid at room temperature, but monounsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature. Animal fat, such as fat in a marbled steak, is saturated fat.

Polyunsaturated fats are a bit more complex. Omega-3 fatty acids and omega-6 fatty acids are both polyunsaturated fats, but they have very different affects on the body. Omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation and lower one’s risk of heart attack, but omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation. The most current research concludes that a ratio higher than 4:1 omega-6/omega-3 increases cancer risks and could aggravate inflammatory conditions like arthritis.

Sources of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids include cold water oily fish, flax seed, and walnuts. Sources of omega-6 fatty acids include bread, grains, corn oil, palm oil, and soybean oil. The American diet is very high in sources of omega-6 fatty acids and deficient in sources of omega-3s, so most Americans exceed the recommended omega-6/omega-3 ratio of 4:1 or lower. Avoiding fried foods and eating less bread would be a start toward tipping the ratio back in your favor.

Total Carbohydrates can be found right under the listed fats on any nutritional label. Sugars are listed beneath the Total Carbohydrates heading, and a lower number is always better. If the Total Carbohydrates number is much higher than the number listed for Sugars, then the food has complex carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are great for long-term energy, but sugars will spike your blood sugar level and lead to an energy crash. Spiking your blood sugar is a bad idea because your body will convert excess sugar into bodyfat. The long-term release of energy provided by complex carbohydrates gives your body the opportunity to burn calories before they can become bodyfat.

Nutrition labels also list dietary fiber under the Total Carbohydrates category. Some nutrition labels will list soluble fiber and insoluble fiber, although no federal regulation requires such distinction. The human body needs both types of fiber, and more fiber is always better. Current medical advice is to get at least 30 grams of fiber each day, but fiber is useless unless a person consumes it with fluid. Fiber expands in water, allowing it to do it’s job of absorbing toxins and physically moving waste from the digestive track. Consuming fiber with fluid will lower one’s cholesterol level and blood pressure. Eating fiber without drinking enough fluid will just make a person constipated without any benefit.

Protein appears directly beneath the Total Carbohydrate category on nutrition labels. Protein is good for maintaining muscle tone and rebuilding the body’s structures, which suffer daily wear and tear. An adult male needs about 56 grams of protein each day, and an adult female requires around 46 grams daily unless she is lactating. Lactating women need at least 71 grams of protein daily. A person’s daily protein requirement will increase if one is an athlete or employed in a physically-demanding trade.

Fats, carbohydrates, and proteins should be consumed in proportion to one another. Protein should account for 20% to 30% of total calories. Fat should be reduced to 20% of total calories, and the remaining 50% to 60% of one’s caloric intake should come from complex carbohydrates.

A gram of protein and a gram of carbohydrate are each 4 calories, but a gram of fat has 9 calories. If protein and fat calories are consumed in equal proportion (20% of total calories each), then you need fewer than half as many fat grams as you need of protein.

Here is how I quickly evaluate a nutrition label:

  1. Saturated fat should be less than half the Total Fat.
  2. The number of protein grams should be at least double the number of Total Fat grams.
  3. The number of Total Carbohydrates should be about double the number of protein grams.
  4. The list of ingredients should not include any weird chemical compounds that I do not readily recognize as food.

If the nutrition label passes all four steps of my evaluation, then I buy the food package.

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