Most foods and drinks available in stores have a ‘ Nutrition Facts label’. It is important we take time to read and understand the information provided on the label. You can use the Nutrition Facts label to support your personal dietary needs and make healthy food choices. You will generally find the following categories on the label.
- Serving size – When reading a nutrition label, the first thing you will find is the total number of servings in each package/container, and the size per serving. The serving size is shown as the number of cups/measurement unit or number of pieces per serving. It is important to realize that all the nutrient amounts shown on the label, including the number of calories, refer to one serving. For example if serving size is 1 cup and the package has 2 servings of food, and if you consume the whole package, you would be consuming two times the calories and nutrients shown on the label.
- Calories – Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of this food you are about to consume. For example, if there are 100 calories in one serving of the food you are eating, and you consume the entire package with 2 servings, then you would have consumed 200 calories.
- Nutrients – This section contains information about fats, sodium, cholesterol, carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. These elements are key nutrients that affect your health. Saturated fats, sodium and added sugars are usually associated with adverse health effects and should be consumed in moderation. Eating too much saturated fats and sodium, for example, are associated with an increased risk of developing some health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure. Consuming too much added sugars leads to weight gain.
- Proteins are building blocks of our body and are important for growth in children. It is important that children get adequate protein in their diet. Other key nutrients needed by our body are Dietary Fiber, Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. Eating a diet high in fiber reduces constipation, lowers blood glucose and cholesterol levels, and makes you feel full faster. Diets high in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium can reduce the risk of developing rickets, anemia, and high blood pressure.
- What are total sugars and added sugars? Total Sugars on the Nutrition Facts label includes sugars naturally present in many foods and beverages, such as sugar in milk and fruit, as well as any added sugars that may be added during the processing of the food. You want to limit the added sugars these in your diet.
- Percent daily value (% daily value) – The % Daily Value (%DV) is a fraction of the recommended daily amount for each nutrient that is available in in a serving of the food. The percentage of the %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a particular nutrient and whether a serving of the food contributes a lot, or a little, to your daily diet for each nutrient.
- Nutrients without %DV: Trans Fats. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, there is evidence that diets higher in trans fat are associated with increased blood levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or bad cholesterol), which, in turn, is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Try to avoid trans fats as much as possible.
Dr. Manju Akhand is a board certified pediatrician affiliated with Access Pediatrics. Access Pediatrics has two offices locations, Bolingbrook, Illinois and Berwyn, Illinois. For more information, please call her office at 630-679-1275 or 708-665-3129.
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