Weight watchers and dieters look at the nutritional facts label to count calories when planning out their snacks and meals. But calories are not the only important data you can find on a nutrition label. Being able to read and understand the nutrition labels on the food you buy is a great skill to learn for a healthier lifestyle. Here are the most important things to look for the next time you’re at the grocery store.
Serving Size/Number of Servings
The serving size on the label often does not reflect the amount of food you are going to eat as a snack or a meal. However, following the recommended serving size, or sticking close to it, can help you moderate your portions and limit your consumption. If you plan to eat approximately two servings at a time, multiply the rest of the nutritional information by two as well.
Calories are to humans as fuel is to cars—they are your energy source. Calories are burned during daily activities and exercise. Nutritionists recommend eating smaller portions of nutrient-rich foods that have a high caloric content. Try to keep snacks at around 150 calories and meals around 400 calories. Don’t stress out about counting calories, but make your calories count.
Sugar and Added Sugars
Added sugars like glucose, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are one of the first ingredients listed on foods and beverages that you should avoid. In July of 2018, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration will require nutritional labels to include the values of added sugars. Try substituting water, sparkling water, or tea for sugary sodas, and switch desserts for fresh fruit.
Another important piece of data to pay attention to when looking at the nutrition label is sodium content. Try to limit yourself to 1,500 to 2,000 mg of sodium per day. Researchers have found that eating a low-sodium diet reduces the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.
A diet high in fiber is essential for heart health. Two to three grams of fiber is recommended for every 100 calories you intake. Most carbs come from either fiber or sugar, so make sure to get the majority of your carbs from foods that are high in fiber and whole grains.
Purchase foods that are low in saturated fat and have zero trans fats. The lower the total fat of a product, the better, but don’t cut out fats completely. The human body needs six grams of saturated fat and 50-60 grams of total fat per day.
Nutritionists recommend at least 4,700mgs of potassium per day. Some common foods that are high in potassium are fat-free or low-fat milk, bananas, most fruits and vegetables, sweet potatoes, white beans, and yogurt.
The amount of protein you need per day depends on your body weight. The average male needs about 56 grams of protein per day while the average female needs 46 grams. Your body uses protein to rebuild and repair tissues. Extra protein is recommended for anyone attempting to build muscle mass.
The next time you’re at the grocery store planning out a week or two of meals, take some time to check the nutritional labels. Make sure you are consuming foods that optimize your body’s performance and give you the fuel you need to get through the day.