Wednesday Wellness Tips: Food Labels 101

In lieu of the regular RICE & MICE content for some of the off-season, I’m going to do a series on health and wellness. I hope you enjoy it and as always, if you have specific questions, please don’t hesitate to leave comments or send me an email. This is not intended to be medical advice, nor should it take the place of you consulting a medical provider. Please see your doctor, physician assistant or nurse practitioner before starting any diet or weight loss program.

Have you ever really looked at a nutrition label? How many times do you pick up a package of crackers and look at the ingredients list? Here is a short crash course to help you navigate a nutrition label.

  1. The first thing listed on any nutrition label is serving size and the number of servings per container. The nutrition label below is the label for a 20-ounce bottle of Mountain Dew. You can see that the normal serving size is 8 ounces, however there are 2.5 servings per container. Be conscious of this because the calorie and nutrition breakdown is based on one serving size.
  2. Next on the label is the calorie content. A calorie is a unit of measure of energy. You can see the number of calories per serving of mountain dew is 110. If however, you consume the entire bottle of Mountain Dew, you are consuming 275 calories.
  3. Since Mountain Dew has no fat content, calories from fat are not listed on this label. On most labels you can find calories from fat listed nest to calories. Ideally, most of your calories should come from proteins or carbohydrates rather than fat. Also, low-fat doesn’t always mean low calorie.
  4. Next on the label is Total fat listed in grams, with saturated fat and trans fat listed as subcategories. Saturated fat comes mainly from animal-based foods (meats and dairy). Saturated fat raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Trans fat is found mainly in processed foods. Trans fat also raises total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in the blood. Look for foods low in both saturated and trans fat.
  5. Cholesterol is found only in animal based foods. Cholesterol should be limited to 300mg daily.
  6. Sodium content is listed next. You should limit sodium intake to 2400mg daily. Look for foods with less than 400mg sodium per serving. Looking at our Mountain Dew label, there are 50mg sodium per serving an 125mg sodium per bottle. Some individuals are more salt sensitive than others and a high sodium intake can contribute to high blood pressure.
  7. Total carbohydrate consists of simple carbohydrates (sugars), complex carbohydrates (starches) and dietary fiber. There are subcategories for Sugar and dietary fiber listed under Total Carbohydrates. Sugars are either naturally occurring, such as the sugars found in fruit and dairy products or they may be refined, such as table sugar, high fructose corn syrup and molasses. Dietary fiber is important for digestive health. Foods with more than five grams of fiber per serving are considered high fiber foods. The FDA recommends a daily intake of 25g dietary fiber.
  8. Protein comes from meats, fish, poultry, dairy, soy, tree nuts and beans.
  9. Next the label will usually list vitamins and the percentage of daily intake that the food item contains. Sometimes, there is a reference list on food labels to help you determine the recommended intake of nutrients based on a 2000-calorie diet. There may also be a calories per gram footnote, which lists the number of calories in a gram of fat, a gram of carbohydrate and a gram of protein. Every gram of fat has nine calories. A gram of carbohydrate or protein has four calories each. A gram of alcohol has seven calories.
  10. Know what you are eating. Read ingredient lists. If there’s anything you can’t pronounce it’s probably not good for you. For example, Mountain Dew is an incredibly popular soft drink choice in both diet and regular varieties, lists brominated vegetable oil (BVO) as one of its ingredients.  BVO is supposed to keep the flavoring from separating from the drink; however it’s also used as a flame retardant in plastic. In large quantities, BVO has been linked to memory loss and nerve disorders.