The supermarket shelves are packed with aisle after aisle of brands and varieties of foods. Often it seems quite mind boggling, but thankfully the food label can help us to make sense of these foods.
Unfortunately, many of us pay little or no attention to the information provided. However, learning how to read and understand food labels is extremely important and can go a long way in helping us make heart healthy food choices.
Understanding the food label
Depending on the manufacturer, the information may be listed per serving, per 100 grams, or both. As we've discussed before, serving size gives us an indication of the suggested serving, however we often eat more than this, so when estimating our calorie intake, we must take our actual portion size into consideration.
The calories listed show the amount of energy to be gained in one serving of food. You will see from the example that the calories from fat in one serving of cereal with milk, will account for 30 of the 170 available.
Percentage daily reference value (DRV)
Food labels list percentages that are based on recommended daily allowances. DRV's show how much of a specific nutrient is contained in one serving, compared with the current recommendations for the whole day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Using the label as an example, the sodium content in one serving of this cereal with milk, will provide 12% of the sodium that the average person should consume in one day.
By using the DRV information we can make more informed choices about the foods we choose. If you are trying to limit your intake of saturated fat and sodium, for example, opt for foods that have a lower DRV percentage, and try to eat more foods with a higher DRV percentage for vitamins, minerals and fiber.
This is the listing of each ingredient in descending order of predominance. If you are trying to follow a heart healthy diet, it's best to stay away from foods having sugar, butter, or hydrogenated fat appearing at the top of the ingredients list.
So, what do the labeling terms really mean?
Here are a few tips to help you understand the packaging information:
- Free from - contains none (or very little) of a particular ingredient, for example saturated fat, or sugar
- Calorie-free - has fewer than 5 calories per serving
- Sugar-free - less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving
- Fat-free - less than 0.5 grams of fat per serving
- Low-saturated fat - contains 1 gram or less of saturated fat per serving
- Low-fat - contains 3 grams of fat or less per serving
- Reduced-fat - contains at least 25% less fat than the regular product
- Low-cholesterol - contains 20 milligrams or less cholesterol, and 2 grams or less saturated fat per serving
- Low-sodium - contains 140 milligrams of sodium or less per serving
- Low calorie - contains 40 calories or less per serving
- High fiber - contains 5 grams of fiber, or more per serving