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Food Nutrition Facts…Helpful Info, or Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

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Ahhh, the Food Nutrition Facts. What do all those little numbers mean to you? How do you interpret the data? What exactly are you looking for? This is an example of the Nutrition Facts you will find on a food label. They are all identical…only the numbers change from food to food.

Let’s begin with an overview of each nutrient section, and then we’ll put each under a microscope (of sorts) to gain a deeper understanding of the nutrition side of things.

The Serving Size

The first section of the Food Nutrition Facts show the Serving Size. This is based on the typical amount of food a person eats in a serving.

In this example, the amount you are eating is 1 cup. (228 grams is the metric equivalent.) If you were to eat the entire package, you would have eaten two servings, or enough for two people. What does this mean to you? This means you would have to DOUBLE the rest of the numbers on the label. Pay attention to the serving size…it is one of the most important parts of the label.

Calories and Calories from Fat

The second part of the Food Nutrition Facts deals with Calories. Calories have gotten a bad rap. Calories are a GOOD thing. It’s what our bodies use for energy. But things turn from good to bad when we factor in the number of calories we get from fatty foods. Why? Because the source and type of calorie is many times more important than the number of calories. As with many things, quality is more important than quantity.

Food Nutrition Facts...Helpful Info, or Cruel and Unusual Punishment?

Here you can see there are 250 calories in one serving. The number of calories from fat, though, equals 110. What does this mean? That almost HALF of the calories come from fat. If you ate the entire package, both servings, how many calories would you take in? 500 calories and 220 of them would come directly from fat! Zoinks!

The Nutrients

Let’s move on to the next section of the Food Nutrition Facts. There are two parts to the Nutrient section: those you should limit, and those you should go to town with.

Generally, you are getting enough of these nutrients in your diet. In fact, you are probably getting too much, as most of us do. When you eat too much of these, you increase your risk for certain diseases (heart, cancer, high blood pressure).

This is the section you need to pay attention to because you are most likely not getting enough of these nutrients. When you eat MORE of these nutrients, you have a greater chance of improving your health and reducing some of those degenerative conditions we just mentioned.

It’s important to point out that you should USE these labels to assist you in not only avoiding those nutrients you DON’T WANT,
but in loading up on those you DO!
The Percent Daily Value (%DV)

So do you have to carry around a calculator to figure out how much of each nutrient you’re getting from your foods? NOT! The labels have done all the work for you.

Along the right-hand side of the Food Nutrition Facts you see a percentage listed for each nutrient. In a nutshell, these percentages tell you how much of that particular nutrient contributes to your total daily diet.

In this example, you see that the total fat is 12 grams. Most of us don’t have a clue how much 12 grams is – and this is where the percentage comes in handy. In this example, 12 grams equals 18% of the total amount of fat you should allow yourself for the day.

So if you eat one serving of this food, you will still have 82% of your daily fat allowance left to enjoy that day (100% minus 18% = 82%). If the next food you eat shows a total fat of 50%, then you would have 32% of your daily fat allowance left to enjoy that day (82% minus 50% = 32%).

Who decides these magical percentage numbers? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They assist us in our dietary efforts by setting a reference amount for calculating the % of nutrients.

The FDA set 2,000 calories as this reference amount. This is the amount of calories most of us eat (or should eat) on a daily basis. (Many people — including most men and very active people — have greater caloric needs, which is where the 2,500 calorie column comes into play.) If you’re like most people, you don’t know how many calories you consume per day, so use the Food Nutrition Facts as your frame of reference.

The picture above shows the little section of the Food Nutrition Facts that is not found on every label…only those who have the room for it. It’s not required to be listed on all foods. The numbers on this section are always the same, listing the total amount of each nutrient you should get in a day.

So continuing with our example, your total amount of fat for the day should be 65 grams or less. (Remember, this number will always stay the same.)

Remember, according to the label above, you are getting 12 grams of fat per serving. (Which is, once again, 18% of the total fat grams for the day.) So if you subtract 12 grams from 65 grams, this means you still have 53 grams of fat in your reserves for the rest of day’s meals.

Finally, when you see a percentage of 5% or less, this is LOW.
When you see a percentage of 20% or more, this is HIGH.

Now, does the tedium of spending the rest of your life adding nutrient percentages bring you down? Don’t despair. This short course in labels is only to help you understand the importance of balancing the nutrients in your diet.

Once you understand which foods provide nutrition (or degeneration), you’ll find it easy to choose delicious foods without using a calculator.

So don’t become a slave to the Food Nutrition Facts. Use this information simply as a piece of the puzzle…one of the tools that can assist you in making your food buying decisions. Good luck, and have fun! Food Nutrition Facts...Helpful Info, or Cruel and Unusual Punishment?