National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March. This year’s theme is to personalize your plate. There is no one size fits all when it comes to nutrition. Everyone is unique with different bodies and food preferences. It is important to eat a variety of nutritious foods every day and the best way to do this is by reading food labels. I have people ask me all the time, should I eat this and my response is always. I don’t know what does the food label say.
While the front of the package may state various claims, the nutrition facts label is the best and only way to evaluate the nutrition content of the food. The Nutrition Facts label is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is required on most food and beverage packages.
The first line tells you the servings per container, which is the total number of servings in the entire food package or container. It’s common for one package of food to contain more than one serving. The second line is serving size. The serving size is based on the amount of food people typically eat at one time and is not a recommendation of how much you should eat. The nutrition information listed on the Nutrition Facts label is based on the serving size listed on the label.
The next line is “Calories per serving.” Calories refer to the amount of “energy,” supplied from a serving of the food. A calorie is a unit used to measure the energy content of foods and beverages. Our bodies need energy to function, grow, and thrive. To achieve or maintain a healthy weight, balance the number of calories you eat and drink with the number of calories your body uses. 2,000 calories a day is used as a general guide for nutrition advice. Your calorie needs may be higher or lower.
Next, we have the Percent Daily Value. Percent Daily Value, shows how much a nutrient in a serving of the food contributes to a total daily diet. Use the %DV to determine if a serving of the food is high or low in an individual nutrient and to compare food products — but make sure the serving size is the same. As a general guide: 5% DV or less of a nutrient per serving is considered low, and 20% DV or more of a nutrient per serving is considered high. This is based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Percent Daily Values are based on upper or lower limit intakes of nutrients for optimal health. When we say 100% of DV of Fat that is an upper limit that you should not strive to get more of. Conversely, 100% DV of fiber is a lower limit, and the more of that nutrient you can get the better.
Added sugars are included on the new nutrition facts label in the “Total Carbohydrate” section under “Total Sugars.” You can also look for added sugars on the ingredient list on food packages. Added sugars includes sugars that are added during the processing of foods for example: table sugar, syrups and honey, concentrated fruit or vegetable juices. They do not include naturally occurring sugars that are found in milk, fruits, and vegetables.
Front of package labeling can be confusing and misleading. Remember, turn to the back of the package and read the nutrition facts panel to really understand what you are eating. Comparing products by using the food labels can tell a very interesting story. You might find the product with a lot of claims on the front of package, is almost identical to the one without. If you would like to learn more about front of package labeling contact me, to learn about my Food Labeling presentation.
Monica Nagele is the Montgomery County Extension Educator and County Extension Director, Health and Human Science. She is a registered dietitian. The Extension office is at 400 Parke Ave., Crawfordsville; 765-364-6363. She may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.