How to Read a Nutrition Panel

How to Read a Nutrition Panel

How to Read a Nutrition Panel

There is a good reason very few nutritionists are overweight. Not only they have nutrition data stored in their heads, they also can quickly digest a nutrition panel while grasping the bigger picture. beyond labels.

The Nutrition Facts panel has existed for almost 20 years. The panel shows only the nutrients believed most important pursuant to USDA Dietary Guidelines, to keep the label a manageable size. Nutrients not on the panel include those for which there is no established Daily Value, or “DV” (a guideline for how much of a nutrient we should consume, or limit our consumption to, averaged on a daily basis). Hence, many foods contain nutrients not listed on the nutrition panel.

For example, there is no fix data on how much quercetin (an antioxidant found in apples, grapes, onions, etc.) we should consume, so quercetin content is not permitted in the nutrition panel and there are no nutrient claims allowed for it (as with all antioxidants other than vitamins A, C and E). This is an example of how the nutritionist practice of eating a large variety of fruits and vegetables (fresh, dried and frozen) can maximize our intake of nutrients that may not be listed on the nutrition panel. And it makes vitamin-popping virtually unnecessary.

Nutritionists focus on these on a nutrition label:

1. Serving size and servings per container. Serving sizes are fixed by federal food labeling law (enforced by FDA) for all food categories (e.g., one serving of dried fruit is always 40 grams). Many packages contain more than one serving. Multiply the nutrition data by the number of servings consumed to have the right amount of  the nutrition for more than one serving.

2. Calories. This is a measure of energy stored in food, and of a food’s potential to contribute to weight gain. Too many calories and not enough physical activity to burn the calories is the basic formula for weight gain (a good reason to stop at “one serving”). And while all foods provide calories, those higher in fat will have more “caloric density” and should be eaten in greater moderation to limit calories. Note that calories are not a measure of the healthiness of a food; in fact, FDA criteria for use of the term “healthy” do not include anything about calories.

3. Saturated and trans fats, and sodium. These should be minimized. Pay attention to the %DV to see what portion of the daily maximum the food provides (trans fats have no DV — there is no physiological need to consume them, and they are in fact harmful). Cholesterol in food is not an issue for most people, unless eaten with foods high in saturated fat (e.g., eating eggs or meat with lots of butter or cheese is not a good idea).

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