How to: Read the Nutrition Facts Label
Hi guys! I’m so excited to share this post with you today – it’s my first time posting about a nutrition topic and my first time making an infographic, too!
I decided to really start with the basics here, and to cover a topic I’ve taught many times while volunteering in the hospital and at various community sites around New York City. That topic is: how to read the Nutrition Facts Label! While you won’t find a Nutrition Facts Label on any fresh fruits and vegetables, many healthy foods, such as grains and nut butters do come with a label. Essentially, any food that is packaged is required to have one of these guys on the back, and I believe that it is really important to take a look at what’s inside the food you’re planning on purchasing. From my experience, I know that many people don’t read the label when buying food. Or, they do look at the label, but are confused by what everything means. And I don’t blame them – reading the label wasn’t something that was taught in school, and at first glance it can be incredibly confusing. Once I teach them what to look out for, typically using a common food or drink that they enjoy, they are often quite shocked by how much of X nutrient (usually salt or sugar) is in their favorite foods! I love when I can see a lightbulb go off in their head when they realize that they now have the knowledge and power to make healthier decisions the next time they go to the supermarket.
Below I have included an infographic of 4 important items to look out for on the Nutrition Facts Label. Also, there’s a sample label that I’ll walk you through to apply the information listed in the infographic. Feel free to save and share this infographic as a handy reminder!
So what does this look like on a real life Nutrition Label? Below is a label I found for a pumpkin oatmeal. As you’ll soon find out, many foods marketed as “healthy,” such as oatmeal, may not be so healthy after all.
Looking at the serving size, we can see that a serving is considered 1 cup of cooked oatmeal, and that the entire container contains 6 servings (so 6 cups of cooked oatmeal, or 12 cups of dry oatmeal as the ratio of dry to wet is 1:2). If you were to eat 1 cup of this oatmeal you would be getting 240 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and so on. If you were to eat more than 1 cup, say for instance 2 cups, you would have to double the amount of each number – now you would be eating 480 calories, 7 grams of fat, etc. Remember that you are likely eating this oatmeal along with milk, fruit, or other toppings, and that these numbers are just for the oatmeal alone.
Looking at the % Daily Values, you can see that this oatmeal provides a high amount of vitamin A and calcium, and a decent amount of fiber. Remember that these values are based on a standard 2000-calorie diet. Your daily caloric needs may be higher or lower than this, so this number is best used as a general guide.
Finally, looking at the nutrients of concern, the big one that sticks out is the amount of sugar. While the equivalent serving of plain oatmeal made from rolled oats contains about 1g of naturally-occuring sugars (oats are a carbohydrate), this package contains a whopping 21 grams, indicating that sugars have most definitely been added to this product. One handy trick for sugars = take the gram amount and divide it by 4 to get the amount of sugar in teaspoons. So, 21g / 4 = 5.25 teaspoons of sugar in this oatmeal alone. I’m almost certain you would never add 5 teaspoons of sugar to one serving if you were preparing this oatmeal from scratch! Clearly, it is much better to purchase plain rolled oats (they are super cheap to buy in bulk) and add your own sweetness using fresh fruit, a little bit of honey, or maple syrup.
Do note that this year the FDA confirmed that they will be making some updates to the Nutrition Facts Label. However, these changes are not mandatory until July 2018, so until then these points will still apply! If you’re interested in seeing what the changes are, you can check them out on the FDA website, here.
I hope you guys found this post helpful! I’d love to know what you think, and if there are any topics you want to discuss, either comment below or send me an email. In a follow-up post I will cover how to read the ingredients list, and certain things to look out for there, so stay tuned!