Using nutrition food labels to eat smart

Understanding food labels

Nutrition fact labels are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. People look at food labels for different reasons. For whatever reason, many consumers would like to know how to use this information more effectively and easily.

You will find the serving sizes and number of servings the package contains at the top of the nutrition facts. The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and all the nutrient amounts listed. Ask yourself how many servings there are in the food package. Then, how many servings are you eating?

Calories and calories from fat are listed next on the label. Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight (for example, if you are trying to gain, lose or maintain). The number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat. Eating too many calories per day is linked to overweight and obesity.

The top of the nutrient section shows some key nutrients that impact your health. Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers or high blood pressure.

Most Americans do not get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium or iron in their diets. These nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.

The percent of daily value shows how food fits into a 2,000 calorie diet. Higher percentages mean greater amounts of nutrients. Use the percent daily value to easily and quickly tell if a serving of a food is high or low in nutrients. The percent of daily value makes it easy to compare products. Make sure the serving sizes are the same, especially the weight of each product. You can use the daily value of foods to make trade-offs with other foods. If you like a food high in fat, balance it with foods that are low-fat at other times of the day.

Nutrition Fact labels are a great tool in helping to choose healthy, calorie dense foods for you and your family.

For more information read the FDA’s How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label webpage. Michigan State University Extension also offers nutrition courses that help people understand what a nutrition label means and how to consider it in their diet.

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