Understanding Food Labels

Food labeling can be deceiving! Before you head to the store, you need to have a clear understanding of two of the most important pieces of information on food labels and how to interpret them. This knowledge will help you make the best food choices for your fitness goals.

Serving Size.
What is a serving size? Your concept and the food company’s may not be the same. Is the label’s serving size an accurate representation of the amount you would eat? A more realistic measurement may be three times the suggested serving size! For example, you see that your favorite frozen yogurt only has 4 grams of fat per serving. The label shows a serving size of 1/2 cup. Yet, after measuring you realize that your normal serving is at least 1 1/2 cups, or 12 grams of fat! If you can eat only the suggested serving size, then this is a good choice, if not then reconsider!

Size it up.
Take a realistic guess of how many servings you think an item has, and then look at the label. This gives you a better understanding of how much of the product you are likely to eat in one serving. Another good rule is to determine the total grams of fat &/or calories in a realistic serving size. If a realistic serving comes up high in fat &/or calories, you may want to either limit the portion or purchase something else.

Total Fat and the Percentage of Calories from Fat.
For most healthy diets, total fat should be no more 25 percent of total daily calories. For someone who weighs 160 pounds, that would be about 72 grams a day. Before purchasing a food, check the total fat to see if that product fits into your nutrition plan.

Percentage tells the tale.
Foods that get less than 25 percent of their total calories from fat, should also be the focal point of your nutrition. However, just because a food product has a low number of fat grams, does not necessarily mean it is a low-fat, healthy food.

For example, a reduced-fat whipping cream has 1.5 grams of fat per serving. Many people assume that this is a low-fat dessert topping. However, this product is actually 45 percent fat! The whipped topping only contains 30 calories per serving. Since a fat gram is equal to 9 calories (protein and carbohydrate grams are 4 calories each), multiplying the total fat by the calories gives the amount of fat calories in the product (1.5 grams x 9 calories = 13.5 calories from fat). Dividing the calories from fat by the total calories provides the percent of fat of the product (13.5 divided by 30=45%fat!).

On the other hand, a common nutrition bar has 5 grams of fat per serving. Many dieters would not touch this product claiming a high fat content. In actuality, this is a great product for dieters since it contains less than 12 % fat! The nutrition bar contains 380 and is packed with protein and carbohydrates, thus being a nutritious food with great value for energy and muscle recuperation.

Next time you read labels calculate the percentage of calories from fat before passing judgment on a food!
-by Kira Langolf