The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently updated the Nutrition Facts label on packaged food & beverages for the first time in over 20 years to better reflect updated scientific information, new nutrition research, and input from the public.
The goal of the new design and updated information is to make it easier for consumers to make informed food choices that contribute to lifelong healthy eating habits.
While as a health coach I encourage eating whole foods as much as possible, I also believe there is absolutely a place in your diet for foods that help make your life more convenient or for foods that, while you might not consider them to be “health foods,” are foods that you enjoy.
That being said, having the ability to read a nutrition label and understand what you are consuming can help arm you with the tools to be able to make decisions on how much and how often you want to enjoy these foods or even compare similar products to choose a brand that works best for you and your goals and your lifestyle.
That being said, do you actually know what to look for when reading nutrition labels? Here is your official CBJ guide to help you start reading the new nutrition facts like a pro…
ANATOMY OF THE NEW FDA NUTRITION LABEL
MAKING THE NUTRITION LABEL RELEVANT TO YOU AND YOUR GOALS
When looking at nutrition labels on food products, I like to start by getting the big picture of what I am about to consume and then getting more detailed from there. Here is the order I like to recommend clients look at the different pieces of nutrition information on the nutrition facts label and the ingredient list…
[ ] CHECK OUT THE SERVING SIZE + TOTAL CALORIE COUNT – Misreading a serving size for a product can be a mistake that can dramatically impact your overall ability to calculate your total intake for a meal. Be sure to get familiar with not only what a serving size is, but also how many servings are in a container. Be especially aware of “single serving” containers. While the newer nutrition labels are working to combat the issue of the 2 serving bottle of soda (who drinks just half?), this can be an easy way to miscalculate what you are consuming.
[ ] CHECK OUT THE MACRONUTRIENT BREAKDOWN – The 3 macronutrients, protein, fat, and carbohydrates, will give you the big picture of what the food product you are eating is made up of and what types of calories you are consuming. Remember no one macronutrient is better or worse than the others and your personal overall daily intake and macronutrient balance goals will be dictated by your height, weight, activity levels, age, sex, and fitness goals (to name just a few factors!) For weight loss, choosing foods that are generally higher in protein and fiber levels with a lower calorie intake will be helpful.
[ ] CHECK OUT THE TOTAL AND ADDED SUGARS – Sugars occur naturally in many plant-based foods (think tomatoes, apples, etc.), but many processed foods also have large amounts of added sugars in them. The new label helps you distinguish how much total sugar you are consuming and what amount comes from added sugars or sugar alcohols. Please note that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and stevia will not show up in these numbers even though the might be included in the product (that is why it’s so important to also check the ingredient list to get a full idea of what you are consuming as well!)
[ ] CHECK OUT THE SODIUM – Some processed products can be high in sodium so it is important to check the quantity, especially if you are going to “double” the serving size on the label. Remember, when you double a serving not only will the calories double but also the amount of all the macronutrients, sugars, and sodium! This is important to take into account.
[ ] CHECK OUT THE INGREDIENT LIST – Depending on your goals, this might be the first place you look when choosing a food. In general, products that contain easy to recognize whole food ingredients will be products you want to focus on to increase your overall sense of health and wellbeing. If you aren’t sure of an ingredient, look it up!
Like anything, the more labels you read, the more familiar you will get with all the aspects of the label. I hope this helps give you some ideas of what to look for next time you pick up a product!