We hear the word nutrition often, so often that an entire month is dedicated to it. And while we have a rough idea of what is considered nutritious, we barely understand the nutrition labels on our food items.
If they seem too technical, don’t be intimidated. We’re here to make things easier for you.
How To Understand Your Food’s Nutrition Labels: 6 Details To Check
A few items on the label matter for people who count calories, but those are not the only things we should concern ourselves with. Before we start dissecting the label, let’s define what nutrition is.
Nutrition – is the study of nutrients in the food we consume and how our body uses them in light of health, diet, and disease. Too much or too little of a nutrient is not good, and nutritionists see this at a molecular, biological, and even genetic level to understand how much we really need in a day. Simply put, it is essential to understand food and the nutrients they provide to our bodies.
And this is where labels come in.
Understand The Serving Information First
If you’ve ever had a look at nutrition facts labels, you should notice some sections are strategically placed in larger fonts, so they draw more attention.
The serving size is not necessarily the size of the food you have in your hand. So before you rush in and calculate those calories, take a look at the serving size and double-check your food item’s actual size. These labels usually mention the amount of serving sizes of the food you just bought for convenience. This figure is crucial for computing the nutrients per serving, which is why you should take note of it.
Check Amount Per Serving Calories
If you’re calorie counting, this amount is crucial and should not be misread. Don’t mislead yourself by forgetting the serving size.
Formula: number of calories x number of servings = total calories consumed
Nutrients: What To Get Less Of
Just below calories is a list of nutrients per serving. Before you overwhelm yourself with numbers and nutrients that may be unfamiliar to you, here are some to get less of:
Saturated fat – This is not as harmful as trans-fat, but overconsumption causes a build-up of cholesterol in your arteries. High amounts of LDL cholesterol also increase the risks of stroke and heart disease.
Sodium – Sodium holds excess fluid in your body, which is burdensome on the heart. Consuming too much Sodium increases the risks of various health problems like stomach cancer, hypertension, and kidney failure.
Added sugars – Too much sugar is bad for you, whether it’s natural or added. They cause cavities and increase your risk of heart disease.
Nutrients: What To Get More Of
Now that you have an idea of the nutrients to limit, here are some nutrients you should welcome:
Dietary fiber – Dietary fiber helps with constipation and solidifies watery stool, keeping your bowels healthy.
Calcium – This is crucial for bone health since it helps keep bones strong and hard. As we age, we need more calcium to help support our bones.
Iron – This mineral is vital for your body’s growth and development. It is an essential nutrient for the blood to create hemoglobin, carrying oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body.
Vitamin D – This nutrient keeps your teeth, muscles, and bones healthy by regulating phosphate and calcium in your body. Insufficient vitamin D causes deformities and bone pain in children.
Potassium – One of the benefits of Potassium is to offset the harmful effects of Sodium on your body. Potassium also helps with nerve and muscle function while regulating your heartbeat.
Look At The Percent Daily Value: %DV
This amount in the label indicates each nutrient per serving contributes to a total daily diet. Simply put, it helps you check if your serving of food is high in nutrients or low in a nutrient.
As a general guide, if the amount is less than 5%, it is considered low. If it is above 20%, it is deemed to be high.
If you see low numbers of nutrients that you should be focusing on, like vitamin D or Potassium, you may need to compensate from other sources.
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Compute Your Daily Nutrient Intake
Now that you have some figures in your hand, let’s try to compute:
Serving – 1 cup
Potassium – 510mg = 10%
Sodium – 850mg = 37%
In these figures, you have Potassium, which you need more of, and Sodium which you need less of. There is an obvious disparity between the two, but let’s compute first.
In 1 cup of serving, you get only 10% of Potassium and 37% of Sodium. This means you still need 90% of Potassium to meet your daily requirement and 63% more Sodium.
Here’s where it gets a little tricky: You can’t consume nine more cups to achieve 100% Potassium, or else you’ll be consuming over 300% of Sodium, which is way beyond the required daily diet. You can source Potassium elsewhere instead or choose food items with lesser Sodium.
Nutrition facts in food labels are more valuable than you think. It goes beyond calorie counting and the mere glance of fats per serving. These labels make computing your intake nutrients easier and convenient. And now that you have these tips handy, you’ll never see nutrition labels the same way again.