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Lose Weight by Reading the Nutrition Facts Label
The Nutrition Facts label, which appears on all food packages, is required by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Its purpose is to help you make informed food choices that contribute to a healthy diet. The FDA has established guidelines for general human health. However, we as individuals must decide for ourselves whether the food in a package meets our specific nutritional needs and any special health conditions we may have, such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and so on.
Fat, protein and carbohydrates are the primary nutrients for good health. All are important for our body. The Reference Daily Intake (RDI) of these nutrients varies depending on your age, gender, physical activity and body condition.
Two simple guidelines apply to the majority of American diets:
- Limit total fat, cholesterol and sodium. They increase the risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, some cancers and high blood pressure. Snack foods such as chips and biscuits often have a high fat content, and these are the Unhealthy types of fat – saturated fat and trans fat. These two are connected.
- Get enough dietary fibre, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron to improve your health and reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. Fiber promotes healthy bowel function. Calcium helps with healthy bone formation. Fruit, vegetables and grains provide fiber and vitamins.
One of the best uses for the Nutrition Facts label is for comparing products. You can use this label to determine which product is healthier for you. You can also use the nutritional information to make dietary adjustments throughout the day. If a food you eat is high in fat or sugar, choose low-fat and sugar-free foods later in the day.
Grab a packet of food and look for these items on the Nutrition Facts label.
Serving size tells you how much of the food inside is equivalent to a serving. All other information on the label is based on one serving.
Portions per container tells you how many servings are in a package. Most packages have more than one serving. Pay attention to how many portions you eat, because you have to multiply the other nutrients by that number.
Calories is the total number of calories (energy from fat, carbohydrate and protein) in a portion of the food. This information is important if you are counting calories for weight loss or maintenance.
Calories from fat tells you how many of them Calories in a portion comes from fat. 100 is moderate and 400 or more is high.
% Daily Value (DV) is the percentage of the recommended daily value (according to the FDA) that one serving provides. It is based on a diet of 2000 calories per day. If this value is greater than 20%, the food is a good source of that nutrient; 5% DV or less is low.
Total fat includes four types of fat: Saturated Fat, Trans fat, Polyunsaturated fatand Monounsaturated fat. The unhealthy fats are saturated fat (must be less than 20g DV) and trans fat (must be 0%). These two fats raise LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of coronary heart disease. The RDI for total fat is 65 grams (g). If you are on a low-fat diet, fat-free products often contain added sugar for taste.
Cholesterol is a substance found in animal products. Too much cholesterol intake is not healthy for your heart. The maximum RDI for cholesterol is 300 milligrams (mg).
Sodium tells you the amount of salt in a serving. Low sodium diets for high blood pressure and weight loss diets often limit sodium intake. The RDI for sodium is 2400 mg.
Total carbohydrate includes fiber and sugar. Dietary fiber helps with digestion and keeps us full between meals. Most of us don’t get enough fiber every day. The RDI for fiber is 25 grams. Sugar provide instant energy. Depending on the food, sugar can be natural or added. Too much sugar can be unhealthy and cause weight gain. Healthy diets suggest keeping sugar below 30 grams per day. If you’re on a low-carb diet, sugar-free products typically contain extra fat for flavor.
Protein helps build muscle and fight infections. The amount of protein a body needs varies. For example, infants and children need less protein, pregnant and nursing mothers need more. For adults, the RDI is 50 grams. RDIs established by the FDA are based on a diet of 2,000 calories/day. Protein is found in animal and vegetable products.
Vitamins tells you the amount of vitamins in a portion of the food. Some packaged foods contain added vitamins; some do not provide any vitamins. Vitamins are best found in raw materials rather than packaged foods.
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