Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label
The key to a healthy shopping trip is understanding the Nutrition Facts Label. Follow this guide when buying food for yourself or a senior loved one.
One of the best ways to help improve and maintain good health is to eat a healthy diet made up of foods with high nutrient density and low amounts of questionable and potentially harmful ingredients.
About 20 years ago, the Nutrition Facts Label was established to help consumers make informed and healthy food decisions. While this label has added significant transparency to the foods we eat, it has also generated a great deal of confusion.
Guide to the Nutrition Facts Label
Below is a breakdown of the main sections of the Nutrition Facts Label; it should add more clarity in preparation for you and/or your loved ones next grocery store visit:
1. Serving Size. This number defines the amount in one serving. This information is important to note as other metrics, such as calories and nutrient percentages, are directly tied to it. Be sure to identify how many servings per container – multiple servings result in higher numbers/percentages.
2. Calories. This number tells you how much energy is achieved from one serving of food. Again, be sure to note how many servings are in a package and are consumed as the number of calories will increase based on the number or servings.
3. Fats, Cholesterol and Sodium. Try to limit the amount of food that is eaten when these percentages are high (above 5%). The lower the percentage, the better chance of fighting off deadly disease. Aim to always find foods with 0g Trans Fat. Even better, ensure that the ingredient list does not include words such as “partially hydrogenated.” The good news is that trans fats are being phased out since the FDA declared they were “no longer generally recognized as safe.”
4. Vitamins and Minerals. Aim to have high percentages (above 5%) of beneficial nutrients such as Vitamin A, C Fiber and Iron.
5. Percent Daily Values. These offer guidance into how much or how little a food has based on a 2,000-calorie diet. A good rule of thumb for percent daily values is to keep fat, cholesterol and sodium at very low levels (under 5%), while vitamins and minerals should be higher (aim for above 15-20%).
Proposed Changes to the Nutrition Facts Label
As mentioned above, the Nutrition Facts Label has been a helpful guide for many years but it has also come under fire with a decent level of scrutiny. Thus, there are new changes that have been proposed to help clear up continued confusion. These include the following:
- % Daily value for added sugars
- Additional nutrients such as Vitamin D
- Modifications to the servings sizes
- Slight changes to the format, emphasizing areas such as calories, serving sizes, and percent daily value.
- Footnote changes/simplification
There’s no doubt that the Nutrition Facts Label could benefit from a makeover and improvements are certainly welcomed by the vast majority. But, the main emphasis should be on the ingredient list. Be sure you know what you and your loved ones are consuming and avoid ingredients that are questionable, unrecognizable and difficult to pronounce as they are likely anything but health-promoting ingredients.
Healthy Shopping Tips
1. Minimize Foods with the Nutrition Facts Label
Strive to eat foods that do not have a Nutrition Facts Label as the majority are packaged, processed foods with little nutritional value. Instead, aim to eat fresh, whole organic and/or local foods that are nutrient dense and package free. Examples: tomatoes, spinach, avocadoes and apples – none of these require labels. Learn more about the best anti-aging vegetables and fruits for seniors.
2. Look for Short and Simple Ingredient Lists
Aim for foods with five ingredients or less. Avoid ingredients that you cannot pronounce or identify as they are likely unhealthy or harmful imposters. Additionally, avoid paragraphs of ingredients. The simpler the better – and typically the healthier.
Now, take this information, get informed and get healthier during you and/or your loved one’s next shopping trip!