Grocery Store Superpowers: How to Read a Nutrition Label


Guest blogger: Lindsay V., Communications Coordinator / Compass Rose Benefits Group

At some point, we’ve all sat down to eat a bowl of cereal and found ourselves reading everything on the box—from the games down to the nutrition label. But were you really comprehending what it was saying? There are so many numbers and percentages on nutrition labels that it can seem like a secret code. Trying to decipher a nutrition label can be overwhelming, which is why we have put together some tips to help you the next time you’re eating a bowl of cereal—or, more likely, walking through the grocery store.

The Place to Start

One of the first things on a nutrition label is the serving size—and it’s possibly the most important. The nutrition information that follows is based on the serving size. If you’re eating more or less than the serving size, then the nutrition numbers will differ from what is written on the box.

Look out; “junk foods” often list smaller serving sizes than what the average person ends up eating (who only eats 17 chips?). So, if you are going to eat the whole ‘snack size’ bag of chips, beware that there may actually be 2.5 servings per bag according to the manufacturer, thus all of the nutrition information is 2.5 times more.

Counting Calories

Many people believe that the only thing that really matters on a nutrition label are calories. Calories is a measure of how much energy your body gets from that serving of food. Counting calories is just one of the many factors that can help with weight management. In order to better manage your weight, you should also look at how nutrient-rich the food is: protein, fiber, vitamins, etc. The lower these numbers are, the worse the food is for you.

Perusing Percentages

Things start to get confusing when you start looking at “percent daily values” (or %DVs). These are usually based on recommended daily values for a 2,000 calorie-per-day diet for healthy adults. However, recommendations are based on a variety of factors such as age, gender, health and more.

The Facts About Fat

Did you know that not all fats are bad? Yet, the word “fat” alone is enough to scare consumers into thinking something is bad for them. The two fats to pay attention to are unsaturated fat (healthy) and trans fat/saturated fat (unhealthy). Look to see if there is more unsaturated than trans/saturated fat in a product, or that the trans/saturated fat levels are low—this makes for a healthier food product.

The Good and the Bad

Most Americans don’t get as much fiber as they should. Not only does fiber help with digestion, but it can also lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer. So talk with your doctor about how many grams you should be consuming in a day to make sure you are getting enough.

Did you know that just 4 grams of sugar equals one teaspoon? And that sugar has no nutritional value? The less, the better. This also applies to sodium. Excess sodium can raise blood pressure, which increases your risk for heart disease. Unless of course you have low blood pressure, in which case your doctor may recommend higher sodium intake.

Apply What You Know

Before you start putting items into your grocery cart, be sure to check the nutrition label to see whether or not it’s good for you. Knowing how to read a nutrition label can also help when you are comparing two similar items.

And, next time you are food shopping, feel confident that you are better prepared to make healthier choices.


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