NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County


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Some Light Reading

Some Light Reading


          It may not be on a “best sellers” reading list, but the Nutrition Facts food label on the food you are consuming provides you with plenty of food for thought.

          The Nutrition Facts food label is printed somewhere on the outside of packaged food, and you usually don't have to look too hard to find it. Most nutrients are measured in grams, also written as g. Some nutrients are measured in milligrams, or mg – which are 1,000 milligrams in 1 gram.

          Other information on the Nutrition Facts label is given in percentages. Food labels base the percentages on a 2,000-calorie adult diet.  The percent daily value on a food label tells you how this food can help you meet daily goals of consuming adequate amounts of vitamins, such as A and C, and minerals, such as calcium and iron and not over consume fat, calories and sugar.

          The ingredient list is a very important part of the label and a quick read. Ingredients are listed in order so you may have an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the food. When an ingredient is listed first, second, or third, you know that this food probably contains a great deal of it. The food will also contain smaller amounts of the ingredients mentioned at the end of the list. The ingredient list can, for example, help you determine how much of a "fruit breakfast bar" is fruit.  If the word “sugar” appears before the word “fruit”, on that label you may wish to select another product.  

          The nutrition label always lists a serving size, which is an amount of food, such as 1 cup of cereal, two cookies, or five pretzels. The nutrition label is calculated to tell you how many nutrients are in that amount of food. Serving sizes also help us understand how much food we are eating.  Is the entire package one serving or 10?  The answer will make a great deal of difference in how many calories and nutrients you are consuming.

          The number of calories in a single serving of the food is listed on the left of the label. Another important part of the label is the number of calories that come from fat. Be sure to that check section of the food label, as it is extremely important for overall health and weight to limit fat intake to about 30% or less of the calories we eat.

          Cholesterol and sodium numbers tell you how much cholesterol and sodium (salt) are in a single serving of the food. They are included on the label because some people should limit the amount of cholesterol and salt in their diets. The total carbohydrate and total protein numbers tell you how many carbohydrate grams are in one serving of food.

          The amounts of vitamin A and vitamin C, two important vitamins, in a serving of the food, are given as a percent daily value. Other vitamins may be listed on some labels. Also listed are the percentages of calcium and iron that are in a serving of the food. Pay particular attention to vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The Food and Drug Administration reports that most Americans don't get enough in their diets.

          And finally calories in one gram of fat, carbohydrate, and protein are listed. This information is the same for every food and is printed on the food label for your easy reference.

          Now that you know a little more about food labels,  it should be easier for you to read up on what you're eating!

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