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Reading the Nutrition Facts Label

With the growing awareness of healthy eating, the consumer already has one ally available to him/her:  the Nutrition Facts label.  All commercially sold food items are required by law to have a readily visible Nutrition Facts label on the packaging so that the public is made aware of the nutritional values associated with a particular product.  Unfortunately, the Nutrition Facts label lacks consistency, making it difficult for the consumer to decipher the significance of some of the values.  It’s time to end the misunderstandings.

A typical Nutrition Facts Label looks something like this:

The first item to mention is the small writing on the bottom, stating that the percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, and that your values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.  What does this mean?  It means that if the Total Fat for this particular product is 16 grams, the percentage alongside it will read 25% because that’s one quarter of the fat needed daily for a 2,000 calorie diet.  If, however, you’re on a 1600 calorie regimen, then the same 16 grams reflect 31% of your recommended fat intake for the day.  Conversely, if you’re on a 3,000 calorie regimen, the 16 grams only reflect 16% of your recommended fat intake.

The second – and single most important – item to discuss is the manner in which this label is presented because that is the source of a great deal of confusion.  The Saturated Fat, Trans Fat, and Cholesterol percentages are best the closer they are to zero because the less of these elements in your system, the better. (In fact, Trans Fat should always equal zero if you care at all about your health.)    The opposite end of that spectrum applies to Total Fat and Total Carbohydrate.  At the end of a complete day’s meals, the Total Fat should be as close to 100% as possible and so should the Total Carbohydrate.  With those two elements at 100%, then the protein consumed is also at 100%, and that is, by definition, the perfectly balanced diet.  Of course, one needs to know what the total fat and total carbohydrate intake for a particular calorie regimen is supposed to be.  If you need help with that, write us at nutritionlabelsabc@gmail.com, and we’ll gladly help.

Next on the list is sodium.  The recommended daily allowance of sodium has nothing whatever to do with calories consumed.  The number is 2300 milligrams per day per person regardless of how much or how little you eat, 1500 milligrams or less for those on a sodium-restricted diet, except where a health care physician creates different parameters for a particular patient.  Sodium is an essential element for proper heart function.

Dietary Fiber is the only category listed where the recommended intake is defined as a minimum, and so more than 100% is even better!  Interestingly, it sits right atop sugars which have no particular limit imposed by the USDA, so just remember to keep that number as low as possible.  Now, if the dietary fiber consumed in a day is well over the 100% mark, then a little more sugar can be safely managed by the body because the fiber acts as a sort of paste around the sugars so the body can only extract them slowly, and that’s a good thing.

With all of these different categories of some cases where lower is better, others where 100% is best, and still others where more than 100% is better still, it’s no wonder that many people don’t truly understand the significance of the values they read on the Nutrition Facts labels.

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