Food labels can be very helpful for consumers, but only if one knows how to read them properly and how to use the information to make smart choices in one's daily diet; the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has lots of tips on how to do so correctly and simply.
Learning to read food labels correctly is imperative if one is going to understand just what they are taking into their body. Not understanding the label information can lead to a false sense of security when it comes to nutrition. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has a lot of information about how to read food labels and how to incorporate that information into your daily food choices.
For example, one of the biggest mistakes people commonly make is not checking the serving size of an item. They will often just begin checking the number of calories, amount of fat, fiber, etc. and apply that information to the entire package. However, if a package has four servings, the amount of calories, fat, fiber, etc. in the ENTIRE package must be multiplied by four! The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says:
This section is the basis for determining number of calories, amount of each nutrient, and %DVs of a food. Use it to compare a serving size to how much you actually eat. Serving sizes are given in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, e.g., number of grams.
Calories are an important factor to monitor when trying to lose, gain or maintain one’s weight. And, it is easy to read the label and determine what you are getting when you eat a single serving of a product. As the FDA explains:
Amount of Calories
If you want to manage your weight (lose, gain, or maintain), this section is especially helpful. The amount of calories is listed on the left side. The right side shows how many calories in one serving come from fat. ... The key is to balance how many calories you eat with how many calories your body uses. Tip: Remember that a product that's fat-free isn't necessarily calorie-free.
Reading food labels can also help one to regulate the amount of certain nutrients that are being taking into the body each day. Some nutrients need to be limited, while others need to be included in the diet in a greater amount. As the FDA explains:
Limit these Nutrients
Eating too much total fat (including saturated fat and trans fat), cholesterol, or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure. The goal is to stay below 100%DV for each of these nutrients per day.
Get Enough of these Nutrients
Americans often don't get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. Eating enough of these nutrients may improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions.
The % Daily Value can be confusing for some label-readers, but it is an important tool in managing one’s overall daily intake of nutrients. Does a food add a lot or a little to one’s daily diet in particular nutrients? The % Daily Value section can shed light on this question, says the FDA:
Percent (%) Daily Value
This section tells you whether the nutrients (total fat, sodium, dietary fiber, etc.) in one serving of food contribute a little or a lot to your total daily diet.
The %DVs are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Each listed nutrient is based on 100% of the recommended amounts for that nutrient. For example, 18% for total fat means that one serving furnishes 18% of the total amount of fat that you could eat in a day and stay within public health recommendations. Use the Quick Guide to Percent DV (%DV): 5%DV or less is low and 20%DV or more is high.
Footnote with Daily Values (%DVs)
The footnote provides information about the DVs for important nutrients, including fats, sodium and fiber. The DVs are listed for people who eat 2,000 or 2,500 calories each day.
—The amounts for total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium are maximum amounts. That means you should try to stay below the amounts listed.
For more information on food labels, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website.