Between the enticing front-of-package claims, number-heavy nutrition panels, and wordy ingredient lists, the info on food packages can be hard to understand. It’s easy to get swayed by marketing claims or caught up in the ingredients but stick to the FACTS—the nutrition facts panel! Here’s what you need to know when it comes to the nutrition facts panel on food packages…
This information is critical! It will tell you how much of that food or drink you can have for the stats listed on the panel. And here’s a little-known fact: The most accurate measurement is often given by weight. For a perfect portion, toss it on a food scale (don’t have a food scale, use measuring cups or measuring spoons).
Servings Per Container
People often overlook this one, but it’s crucial to accurate calorie counting. The number of calories (as well as the amount of fat, carbs, etc.) is only accurate if you stick to one portion. Many snack-size packages appear to be a single serving but actually contain two or three. Check this number and do the math.
This is arguably the most important number on the panel, especially when it comes to weight loss and weight management. The number of calories listed is the sum of calories from fat, carbs, and protein (aka the big three macronutrients). Don’t worry about adding all that up because the label does it for you.
This includes saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated fats. To know how much healthy fat you are getting, subtract the saturated and trans grams from the total fat.
According to the FDA, your daily sodium intake should stay under 2,300mg. Amounts vary among seemingly identical products, so shop and compare and be on the lookout for sneaky sources of sodium.
Watching carbs? Let’s break them down: The total number is the sum of sugar, sugar alcohols, starch, and fiber. If you subtract sugar, sugar alcohols (if listed), and fiber, you will get an idea of how many grams of carbs the food contains.
This number is the combination of soluble (digestible) and insoluble (not digestible) fibers. Soluble fiber makes you feel full, and the rest keeps things moving through your system. Most people don’t get enough fiber, so choose whole grains and high-fiber foods whenever you can
Prepare to be shocked at how much sugar some seemingly innocent foods contain. The sugars tally includes the naturally occurring kind (in fruit or milk) plus any sugars added during processing. An FDA rule now requires brands to list how much of that sugar is “Added Sugars,” so you can see for yourself where the sugar is coming from.
We love the long-lasting energy you get from a protein-packed meal or snack. And more protein means fewer calories are coming from fat and carbs. (Remember, the total calorie count is a combination of all three macronutrients.)
The Ingredients List
Ingredients are listed in order by weight from greatest to smallest amount. So, if a food contains a questionable ingredient, but it’s way at the bottom of a long list, chances are it has only a limited amount of that ingredient. It’s up to you to determine if the questionable ingredient in the food product is right for you based on the big picture.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of the nutrition facts panel and how to read them. This should help you make better food choices while grocery shopping that will also help you stay on track with your healthy eating plan, and until Wednesday, be happy, healthy, and beautiful!