Knowing what’s in your food is very important. Not only does it help you make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need, the fact is that many foods contain ingredients that you might not expect. Which means that something that might appear to be healthy, could, in fact, be high in added sugar, salt or other ingredients that simply aren’t good for you. If you have food allergies and/or intolerances, know what’s in your food is that much more important. This means reading not just the ingredients list, but also the nutrition label. Nutrition labels provide a lot of valuable information, but they can also be confusing if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Here’s a quick summary of what you need to know:
- NUTRITION LABEL ELEMENTS: The main categories that are included on every nutrition label are serving size, calories, nutrients and the percentage of daily value section. The serving size indicates how much of the food product is being measured in the other sections below. For example, if the serving size is five cookies, then the information on calories and nutrients is listed for five cookies. The calorie section shows how much energy you would get from one serving of the food in question. The nutrient section shows lists certain nutrients and details how much of these nutrients one serving of this food contains.
- WHAT TO LOOK FOR: While there’s a lot of information listed on nutrition labels, there are a few things that you should pay specific attention to. One is the serving size. Look at how much of the food is considered one serving and then think about how much you are planning to eat. For example, if one serving of pasta is half a cup, but you are planning on eating one cup of pasta, you’ll need to double all of the information on the label to get an accurate view. When it comes to calories, most people should eat around 2000 calories a day (though this varies based on your age, gender, height, weight, exercise level and many other factors.) Keep this in mind when choosing foods. For nutrients, you will want to see if the food is high in various beneficial nutrients that your body needs every day. Look at the sections on dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients. A nutrition label doesn’t just list the items that you want to limit or avoid. It also lists the nutrients that you should be consuming on a regular basis. Foods that are high in these nutrients are better for you than foods that do not contain many beneficial nutrients.
- WHAT TO AVOID: The nutrients listed first on the label are those that most people get enough of and that many people get too much of on a regular basis. These nutrients include saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. You will want to get as little trans fat in your diet as possible. These fats raise the blood levels of “bad cholesterol” and reduce the blood levels of “good cholesterol,” both of which lead to a greater risk of heart disease. For this reason, you should limit trans fats whenever possible. You will also want low amounts of saturated fat and sodium. The recommended intake of sodium for most Canadians is between 1000 and 1500 mg per day. However, studies show that the average Canadian eats more than double that amount. Keep this in mind when you are looking at the nutrition label and avoid foods that are high in sodium. It’s also important to consider all of the other foods that you’re going to eat in a day. For example, if one food item contains 1000 mg of sodium in one serving, remember that you won’t be able to eat much more sodium that day if you choose to eat this item.
If you need help with understanding nutrition labels or with developing a healthy nutrition/meal plan, don’t hesitate to give us a call. Remember, at Physiomed…Healthier Starts Here.