Reading a nutrition label properly is essential to forming good dietary habits. (Photo credit: FDA.gov)
Eating whole fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein sources is the best for our bodies. However, for busy college students, this isn’t always as practical. Some processed foods can be healthy and helpful when in a rush. It is essential to read a nutrition label to determine what foods are better than others to consume.
Nutrition labels have sections with the serving size and calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, vitamin D, calcium, iron, potassium, and an ingredient list. Sometimes products show other vitamins and minerals, but these four are required on all labels.
When looking at the calories, it is vital to consider the portion size. If the portion size is one cup and you consume two, you are getting double the calories and everything else on the nutrition label.
Another tip while looking at the nutrition label is to find foods with short ingredient lists with words you find familiar. The ingredients will be listed in descending order by weight; the ingredient found the most in the product is listed first. Ingredients should be studied for people with specific dietary needs and especially for people with allergies.
The amounts of fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, and protein are shown in grams and % daily value. I would recommend looking at the percent daily value, unless you know specifically how many grams you may need in each area. The percent daily value is based on 2000 calories a day diet, but it is a good guideline of how much you should be eating. However, you may need more or less based on how many calories you need in a day.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that when the percent daily value is 5% or less, this is low. It is best to find products low (5% or less) in saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and trans-fat. When the percent daily value is 20% or more, this is high. Products that have high (20% or more) vitamins, minerals, and fiber are beneficial.
Buying products with low saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and trans-fat is probably one of the most important things to consider when buying processed foods.