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Reading Nutrition Fact Info
By Ivan Nikolov
copyright © 2008 Ivan Nikolov
The Nutrition Facts label can be a useful tool in helping
design a balanced and healthful diet. Learning how to read and use the
nutrition label on most packaged
foods can assist people with food allergies, on special diets, interested in
cutting back on fat, cholesterol, or in calories.
How did everything start
The earliest labeling guidelines date back to the 1900s when the Federal Food
and Drug Act authorized the federal government to regulate the safety and
quality of food. Soon afterwards the FDA required that ingredients be listed.
In 1924 the net weight and names and addresses of the manufacturer or
distributor had to be stated on labels as well. By 1973 nutritional values
providing information about the amounts of vitamins and minerals had to be
But it was in 1990 when the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) was
passed. The NLEA of 1990 was finally put into effect in May of 1994 after the
regulations were carefully defined and brought in line to reflect the concerns
of public health professionals and Americans about nutrition and its
relationship to health.
Reading the info on the labels
Begin your reading at the top of the label with the serving size and number of
servings per package. Compare the serving size to how much you eat. If you eat
double the serving size, then you need to double the calories and other
nutrient numbers, including the percent daily value.
The daily values tell you if the nutrients in a serving of food contribute a
lot or a little to the recommended daily intake. The nutrients on a label are
ordered from what we should limit, such as fat, cholesterol, and sodium, to
those nutrients we need to make sure we get enough of, such as dietary fiber,
vitamin A & C, calcium and iron.
Serving Size and Servings Per Container
At the top of each food label you'll see a serving size
amount. Listed first is the serving size or the amount of food a person would
need to eat to get the amount of listed nutrients.
The servings per container appears below the serving size. It tells you how
many servings are in the entire package. So if one serving is 1 cup, and the
whole package has 5 cups, there are five servings per package.
These quantities are based on the amount people generally
eat, and they are determined by the manufacturer. Serving sizes are not
necessarily recommended amounts, but common ones.
Other nutritional information on the package is based on the listed serving
size. So if there are two servings in the package, and you eat the entire
package, then you must double all of the nutritional amounts listed.
A calorie is a unit of energy that measures how much
energy a food provides to the body. The number given on the food label
indicates how many calories are in one serving.
Calories From Fat
Fat Calories is the number which appears below the calorie amount on a food
label is calories from fat. This tells the total number of calories in one
serving that comes from fat. The label lists fat so that people can monitor the
amount of fat in their diets.
Percent Daily Values
Percent Daily Values are listed in the right-hand column
in percentages, and they tell how much of a certain nutrient a person will get
from eating one serving of that food. Ideally, the daily goal is to eat 100% of
each of those nutrients. If a serving of a food has 18% protein, then that food
is providing 18% of your daily protein needs if you eat 2,000 calories per day.
This number indicates how much fat is in a single serving
of food and is usually measured in grams.
Saturated Fat and Trans Fat
Saturated and Trans fats tend to increase the risk for
complications of heart disease such as heart attacks and strokes. The amount of
saturated fat appears beneath total fat. As a general rule the saturated fat
shouldn't’t exceed 30% of the daily fat intake but if the daily calorie intake
consists mainly of fats it should be much less.
Beginning in 2006, manufacturers will also be required by the FDA to list trans
fats separately on the label. Trans fats should be avoided because of their
properties to increase the LDL or the bad cholesterol.
Unsaturated Fat includes Mono- and Polyunsaturated fats.
These are the healthy fats. Unsaturated fats are also listed under total fat.
Cholesterol is actually a hormone. It is listed under the
fat information although it falls under the group of the sterols. It's usually
measured in milligrams. Too much cholesterol in the blood can cause plaque to
build up inside arteries and narrow them enough to slow or block blood flow.
Sodium, a component of salt, is listed on the Nutrition
Facts label in milligrams. Almost all foods naturally contain small amounts of
sodium. Sodium adds flavor and helps preserve food.
Many processed foods contain greater amounts of sodium.
According to the RDA for a 2000 Calorie diet the sodium intake shouldn’t exceed
2,400 mg a day. That includes the sodium naturally occurring in foods and the
added table salt.
Carbohydrates are a group of organic compounds that
includes sugars, starches, celluloses, and gums and serves as a major energy
source in the diet of animals. On the labels carbohydrates are listed in grams.
Dietary Fiber, listed under total carbohydrate, has no
calories and is a necessary part of a healthy diet. It helps prevent such
diseases as colon cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. It can also have
a positive effect on lowering bad or LDL cholesterol.
Sugars, also listed under total carbohydrate on food
labels, are found in most foods. Sugar is composed of one glucose, and one
fructose molecule. It is the main cause of tooth decay. Snack foods, candy, and
soda often have large amounts of added sugars.
Protein listings tell you how much protein is in a single
serving of a food and is usually measured in grams. Proteins are required for
the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and
Foods high in protein include eggs, milk, meat, poultry,
fish, cheese, yogurt, nuts, soybeans, and dried beans. Approximately 10-15% of
total daily energy intake for non-training individuals should be consumed as
protein. However, athletes should consume more protein to optimize performance
and body composition.
Vitamin A and Vitamin C
Vitamin A and vitamin C are two especially important
vitamins, and that is why they are listed on the Nutrition Facts label. The
amount for each vitamin in each serving is measured in percent daily values, so
if a food has 80% of vitamin C, you're getting 80% of the vitamin C you need
for the day. It's required that food companies list the amounts of vitamin A
Calcium and Iron
The percentages of these two important minerals are listed
also and measured in percent daily values. Food companies are required to list
the amounts of calcium and iron.
Calories Per Gram
These numbers show how many calories are in 1 gram of fat,
carbohydrate, and protein. This information must be printed on every Nutrition
Facts label for reference. This is important because this way individuals who
follow strict diet plans can determine how much of the particular food they can
have. They can also keep track on the total calorie intake during the day.
ABOUT THE AUTOR
Ivan Nikolov, an accomplished natural bodybuilder shares a
wealth of information on Natural
Bodybuilding and Sports
Nutrition on his website www.IvanNikolov.com.
Start using his comprehensive Free Nutrition
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