By Caryn Alter, MS, RD, FAND, Registered Dietitian
Cardiac Rehabilitation at CentraState Medical Center
Whether you’re purchasing your groceries online or perusing foods from your pantry, it’s essential to understand how the Nutrition Facts label impacts your health.
The label format has recently been revised and improved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). These changes have made the new food label even more user-friendly.
Here are some tips from the American Heart Association to help you navigate the supermarket aisles (virtually or otherwise):
Serving Size: The amount listed tells you how much of the food is considered one serving, but be aware that a food package can contain more than one serving.
Servings per Container: This tells you the total number of servings in a container or package. If you eat more or less than the listed serving size, the calories and nutrients you consume will also be more or less.
Calories: The number of calories provided is for one serving of the food; pay close attention if you’re trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
Total Fat: This is the amount of fat in one serving of the food; it includes the “good” fats (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated) and “bad” fats (saturated and trans). Fat is higher in calories than carbohydrates or protein, so watching your fat intake will also help you reduce the number of calories you consume.
Saturated Fat: This is classified as a “bad” fat. Consuming too much saturated fat can raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and your risk of stroke and heart disease. Limit your intake of saturated fat to less than 5-6 percent of your total calories.
Trans Fat: Also classified as a “bad” fat, trans fat can raise your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and your heart disease risk. Select foods with zero grams of trans fat. Read ingredient lists on packages and try, when possible, to avoid foods with “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” as an ingredient.
Cholesterol: This is found in animal foods like meat, poultry, seafood, dairy products, and eggs. The FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting cholesterol intake within a healthy eating pattern.
Sodium: Both naturally-occurring and added sodium can be found in food products. Salt is sodium chloride. Most people should aim for less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium daily – that’s little more than half a teaspoon of salt!
Total Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are digested and converted into glucose to provide the body’s cells with energy. Opt for nutritious carbohydrate-based foods like fruits and vegetables, and whole-grain cereals, breads, and pasta.
Dietary Fiber: This term refers to several different parts of plants that our bodies cannot digest. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain dietary fiber. One type of fiber, soluble fiber, can help decrease the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Processed or refined grains contain little fiber.
Total Sugars: This includes both naturally-occurring sugars like those found in fruit and milk, as well as sugars added to beverages and foods such as soft drinks, desserts, and candies.
Added Sugars: This is a new addition to the Nutrition Facts label. “Added sugars” lurk in foods under many different names: fructose, sucrose, maltose, dextrose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice, and honey. Scan ingredient lists, and choose beverages and foods without a lot of added sugars.
Protein: Since animal protein contains saturated fat, opt for fish and skinless poultry. Limit your consumption of processed and red meat. Choose fat-free and low-fat dairy products. Be adventurous and try different sources of protein like nuts, seeds, beans, tofu, and other soy-based products.
Vitamins and Minerals: These play an important role in your diet. Eat a variety of foods to help you achieve your goal of 100 percent of essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium each day.
% Daily Value (DV): This number provides the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving based on the recommended daily amount. To consume more of a nutrient, select foods with 20 percent DV or more; to consume less of a nutrient, select foods with 5 percent DV or less.
Click here for more information about the new Nutrition Facts label.
American Heart Association. “How Do I Understand the ‘Nutrition Facts’ Label?” (2020)
U.S. Food & Drug Administration website: www.fda.gov