Food nutrition labels have been designed with the conscious consumer in mind. Even with the information at our fingertips, though, many people struggle to make sense of all the data. Struggle no more! This is everything you need to know about how to read nutrition labels.
Many folks get lost reading nutrition labels right from the start, and serving size is one reason why. Defined serving sizes are often different than the ways in which we prepare and serve a certain food. Take avocados for example. The serving size for an avocado is 50 grams, or approximately 1/3 of a whole fruit. But most people slice an avocado in half (it’s the best way to open the fruit) and scoop out the flesh.
If you want to stick to the recommended serving size, then check out the”how-to” tips page, where you can learn that the secret of slicing and dicing an avocado perfectly is cutting it in half, deseeding the avocado, and then making even, vertical slices. And while you might be tempted to eat the other half, watch this video to learn that it’s simple to store the uneaten part in the fridge: Just squeeze fresh lemon juice on the cut side and cover the avocado in plastic wrap to save it for later.
% of Daily Value (DV)
At the very bottom of the nutrition label, you’ll find the “daily value” upon which the other information on the label is based. The column along the right side of the label tells you what percentage of your daily needs can be met by this food, assuming your diet is ~2,000 calories a day. According to FDA guidelines, food with a DV of 5% or less is considered low in that nutrient, whereas 5-20% is a moderate amount, and 20% or more is high.
You hear people talk a lot about whether food is low or high in calories, and many people who are health-conscious try to stay away from the latter. A nutrition label lets you know how many calories are in a serving of a specific food. You need to consider that number – 80 in the case of avocado – within your overall daily caloric needs. This information does not appear on the nutrition label.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides the Healthy U.S. Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level as an example to follow. The total number of calories a person needs varies depending on a number of factors, including age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity. With only 80 calories per serving, about 4% of a 2,000 calorie diet, a single serving of avocado is considered low in calories.
While fat isn’t all bad, the first two on the label — saturated fat and trans fat — have been linked to higher instances of heart disease and other health problems, so these are important areas of the label to read. They signal what foods you should avoid or consume minimally.
They’re not the only fats on the nutrition label, though. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat are recommended by health experts to support cardiovascular fitness. One-third of a medium avocado (50 g) has only 1 gram of saturated fat, 0 trans fats, and 6 grams of unsaturated fats.
Cholesterol and Sodium
High cholesterol and hypertension – or high blood pressure, which is often related to excessive salt intake – are considered significant risk factors for heart disease, so you’ll want to check the parts of the nutrition label that indicate how much of each are in the food you want to eat.
In the case of avocados, a peek at the nutrition label shows that there’s no need to worry about limiting your avo intake because of cholesterol and sodium. With zero cholesterol, zero sodium, and avocado’s fat profile, it makes a great substitute for spreads and other foods high in these less desirable components.
Carbs have received a bad reputation lately, but natural sugars in fruits and vegetables are important for your metabolism, while ensuring you get plenty of fiber. Be sure to check the “Total Carbohydrate” section of the nutrition label, which tells you how many carbs are in a serving.
Also, this section is broken down into dietary fiber and total sugars. These numbers are important, too. Fiber keeps you feeling fuller for a longer period of time and performs essential digestive functions. If you take a look at the nutrition label for an avocado, you’ll see that it contains 11% of your daily recommended fiber needs.
A healthy diet includes quality sources of lean protein, and a nutrition label will tell you exactly what you need to know about the protein content of the food you want to eat.
Avocados, for example, have 1 gram of protein per serving and they make a great addition to other proteins like red meat, chicken, fish, beans, and other legumes.
Vitamins & Minerals
In the most detailed portion of the label, you can see the micronutrients each food provides. These include Vitamins A, C, D, E, and K, as well as calcium, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc, among others. This section, while it appears on the bottom half of the nutrition label, is rich in information. In addition to telling you about the total amount of each vitamin or mineral in mg, the nutrition label lets you know the total percentage of the recommended daily value is represented by a single serving.
It may seem like a lot of information, but once you know how to read a nutrition label, you’ll have a better sense of how to make positive food choices. Remember: Discuss your diet with your doctor before making any changes to ensure that your decisions are best for your needs.