The Nutrition Facts label that appears on all food packages is required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its purpose is to help you make informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet. The FDA has set guidelines for general human health. However, we as individuals must decide for ourselves whether the food within a package meets our specific nutritional needs and any particular health conditions we may have, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and so on.
Fat, protein, and carbohydrates are the primary nutrients of good health. All are essential to our bodies. The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of these nutrients varies depending on your age, sex, physical activity, and body condition.
Two simple guidelines apply to the majority of American diets:
Limit Total Fat, Cholesterol, and Sodium. They increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, and high blood pressure. Snack foods like chips and crackers often have high fat content, and it's the UNhealthy kinds of fat - Saturated Fat and Trans Fat. These two are linked.
Get enough Dietary Fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron to improve your health and reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Fiber promotes healthy bowel function. Calcium aids healthy bone formation. Fruits, vegetables and grains provide fiber and vitamins.
One of the best uses for the Nutrition Facts label is for comparison of products. You can use this label to decide which product is healthier for you. You can also use the nutrition information to make dietary trade-offs during the day. If a food you eat is high in fat or sugar, choose low fat and sugar-free foods later in the day.
Grab a package of food and look for these items on the Nutrition Facts label.
Serving Size tells you how much of the food inside equals one serving. All the other information on the label is based on one serving.
Servings per Container tells you how many servings are in one package. Most packages have more than one serving. Be aware of how many servings you eat, because you have to multiply the other nutrients by that number.
Calories is the total number of calories (energy from fat, carbohydrate, and protein) in one serving of the food. This information is important if you are counting calories for weight loss or maintenance.
Calories from Fat tells you how many of the Calories in one serving come from fat. 100 is moderate and 400 or more is high.
% Daily Value (DV) is the percentage of recommended daily value (according to the FDA) that one serving provides. It's based on a 2000 calorie per day diet. If this value is greater than 20%, the food is a good source of that nutrient; 5% DV or less is low.
Total Fat includes four types of fat: Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, and Monounsaturated Fat. The unhealthy fats are Saturated Fats (should be less than 20g DV) and Trans Fats (should be 0%). These two fats raise LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of coronary heart disease. The RDI for Total Fat is 65 grams (g). If you're on a low fat diet, fat-free products often contain added sugar for flavor.
Cholesterol is a substance found in animal products. Too much cholesterol intake is not healthy for your heart. The maximum RDI for cholesterol is 300 milligrams (mg).
Sodium tells you the amount of salt in one serving. Low sodium diets for high blood pressure and weight loss diets often restrict sodium intake. The RDI for sodium is 2400 mg.
Total Carbohydrate includes fiber and sugar. Dietary Fiber helps with digestion and keeps us full between meals. Most of us do not get enough fiber each day. The RDI for fiber is 25 grams. Sugars provide instant energy. Depending on the food, sugars may be natural or added. Too much sugar can be unhealthy and cause weight gain. Healthful diets suggest keeping sugars below 30 grams/day. If you're on a low carbohydrate diet, sugar-free products typically contain additional fat for flavor.
Protein helps build muscles and fight infections. The amount of protein a body needs varies. For example, infants and children need less protein, pregnant and nursing mothers need more. For adults, the RDI is 50 grams. RDIs set by the FDA are based on a 2,000 calorie/day diet. Protein is found in animal and vegetable products.
Vitamins tells you the amount of vitamins in one serving of the food. Some packaged foods contain added vitamins; some provide no vitamins. Vitamins are best found in raw foods rather than packaged foods.