Breaking down nutrition numbers

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 6, 2011

In last week’s article we discussed how to make low-calorie choices in each of the food groups as well as various food preparation techniques that help control the number of calories in prepared foods. This week you will learn how to use the food label to identify foods lower in fat and calories and whole grain foods.
Becoming more mindful
One of the best ways to be mindful of exactly what you are eating is to become a label reader. Reading food labels helps you make the best choices when grocery shopping. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that almost all packaged foods have a Nutrition Facts label (small packages and manufactures with a small production may be exempt from having a Nutrition Facts label). That’s the good news. The bad news is that the label can be confusing if you don’t know what the items on the label mean. Food labels are important and provide valuable information about the nutrients in a particular food and whether or not that food may fit into our plan to Eat Smart, Move More and Weigh Less.
— Nutrition Facts —
Below you will find a sample label for macaroni and cheese
The Serving Size
Start with the serving size and the number of servings in the package. Serving sizes are standardized to make it easier to compare similar foods; they are provided in familiar units, such as cups or pieces, followed by the metric amount, the number of grams.
The size of the serving on the food package influences the number of calories and the entire nutrient amounts listed on the top part of the label. Be sure to pay attention to the serving size, especially the number of servings there are in the food package. In the sample label, one serving of macaroni and cheese equals one cup. If you ate the whole package, you would eat two cups. That doubles not only the calories but also the other nutrient numbers including the Percent Daily Values shown in the sample label.
Calories and calories from fat
Calories provide a measure of how much energy you get from a serving of the food. Many Americans consume more calories than they need without meeting recommended intakes for a number of nutrients. The calorie section of the label can help you manage your weight. Keep in mind the number of servings you consume determines the number of calories you actually eat.
In the example, there are 250 calories in one serving of this macaroni and cheese.
Q: How many calories from fat are there in one serving?
A: 110 calories, which means almost half the calories in a single serving come from fat.
Q: What if you ate the whole package content?
A: Then, you would consume two servings, or 500 calories, and 220 would come from fat.
Look at the top of the nutrient section in the sample label. It shows you some key nutrients that affect your health and separates them into two main groups:
Limit these nutrients
The nutrients listed first are the ones Americans generally eat in adequate amounts, or too much. They are identified in yellow as Limit these Nutrients. Eating too much fat, saturated or trans, cholesterol or sodium may increase your risk of certain chronic diseases, like heart disease, some cancers, or high blood pressure.
Get enough of these nutrients
Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron in their diets. They are identified in blue as Get Enough of these Nutrients. Eating enough of these nutrients can improve your health and help reduce the risk of some diseases and conditions. For example, getting enough calcium may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, a condition that results in brittle bones as we age. A diet high in dietary fiber promotes healthy bowel function. Additionally, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grain products that contain dietary fiber, particularly soluble fiber, low saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
The Percent Daily Value (%DV):
The Percent Daily Values (%DVs) are based on the Daily Value recommendations for key nutrients but only for a 2,000-calorie daily diet — not 2,500 calories. The %DV helps you determine if a serving of food is high or low in a nutrient.
Q: Do you need to know how to calculate percentages to use the %DV?
A: No, the label (the %DV) does the math for you. It helps you interpret the numbers (grams and milligrams) by putting them all on the same scale for the day. The %DV column doesn’t add up vertically to 100%. Instead each nutrient is based on 100% of the daily requirements for that nutrient (for a 2,000 calorie diet). This way you can tell high from low and know which nutrients contribute a lot, or a little, to your daily-recommended allowance (upper or lower).
Understanding the footnote on the bottom of the label
Note the * used after the heading “%Daily Value” on the Nutrition Facts label. It refers to the Footnote in the lower part of the nutrition label, which tells you “%DVs are based on a 2,000 calorie diet”. This statement must be on all food labels, but the remaining information in the full footnote may not be on the package depending on its size. When the full footnote does appear, it will always be the same, because it shows recommended dietary advice for all Americans —it is not about a specific food product.
To learn more about nutrition facts visit:
Next week we will discover why fruit and vegetables are a key component to a weight loss/weight maintenance program. Don’t forget to select a strategy (from this weeks topic) to work on for the week and have a good week!
For more information about the program, contact Toi N. Degree, Family & Consumer Education Agent at 704-216-8970 or by e-mail at