When you learn how to read and understand food nutrition labels, you will know how to make heart healthy choices. The USDA regulates the information on these labels so you can compare products and know what you’re buying. Other companies use icons to help you make decisions, like The Heart Check Food Program. Also, some grocery stores label their shelves with gluten free, etc., to help make it easier for you to find what you’re looking for. I will go into more details about these icons and claims in a future post.
The first thing you should look at on food nutrition labels, is the serving size. See what the size is of a single serving and how many servings are in a package. This will help you decide if one serving size is enough for you, or if you need to double it.
The second thing you should look at is the total calories per serving. 40 calories per serving is low, 100 calories per serving is moderate, and 400 calories or more per serving is high. If, after looking at the serving size, you decide you need to double it, you will also need to double the calories and nutrients.
The third thing you need to look at is the fat, cholesterol and sodium. These are nutrients you need to limit. You shouldn’t consume more than 56-78 grams of fat a day. This is no more than 16 grams of saturated fat, and less than 2 grams of trans fat. You should get less than 300 mg cholesterol. So, per serving this is what that looks like:
- Total Fat: Less than 6.5 g.
- Saturated Fat: 1 g or less and 15% or less calories
- Trans Fat: Less than 0.5 g
- Cholesterol: 20 mg or less
- Sodium: 480 mg or less
The fourth thing to look at on the food nutrition labels is the beneficial nutrients like potassium, dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. You want to make sure that when you add up all you eat in a day, you get 100% of these nutrients. Note: Sugar isn’t a beneficial nutrient, even though it’s included in this picture. You should get 9 g or less of total sugars per serving.
The fifth section you should look at is the %DV. This means Percent Daily Values. This tells you the percentage of each nutrient in one serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. You should choose foods with a lower %DV(5% or less) for those nutrients I said you want to consume less of; and a higher %DV(20% or more) for those nutrients I said you want to consume more of.
The important thing to remember about food nutrition labels, is it’s based on 2,000 calories per day. If you need to consume more or less calories than that, you’ll need to calculate the nutrition amounts accordingly. If you scroll back up to the pictures of the various parts of the label, you’ll see the %DV column on the right. Notice, that there’s no %DV next to the trans fat because the FDA doesn’t have enough scientific information to set this value yet. The American Heart Association recommends eating less that 20 calories, or less than 2 g, of trans fat a day. That’s less than 1% DV.
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In case you were wondering, the pictures of the label shown in my post is from a Triscuits package, and as you can see, it qualifies for our heart healthy diet.
So, as you can see, looking at food nutrition labels, isn’t too bad – all it takes is 5 steps. It may seem overwhelming at first, but believe me, it gets easier. It didn’t take me long to memorize the information I need to look for and even the numbers I need to check. Even my daughter, memorized those facts and can help me look at the labels of new foods to see if they qualify for our heart healthy diet. So, if we can do it, you can too!