Feeling unsure about what's actually 'healthy' foods when shopping at the grocery store? The Nutrition Facts Panel on the back of a package can help you make those healthier food choices. The Panel is your guide to identifying nutrients that are good for you like fiber and calcium, as well as those you might want to limit or avoid like saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
Here are some quick tips for reading food labels:
1. Watch Portion Size
- Found at the top, this will help identify your size of a serving and total number of servings per container.
- If the portion size on the Panel doesn’t match the serving size you're used to, divide it into the “right size” portion to fit your needs.
2. Know Your % Daily Values (DVs)
- Scan the Panel for the % DV. This is the recommended amount for a nutrient, based on a 2000 calorie diet.
- Your personal DV may be lower depending on your menu calorie level.
- A food that has 5% or less of the DV is considered to be low in that nutrient.
- A food that has 20% or more of the DV is considered to be high in that nutrient.
3. Choose Foods with Key Nutrients
- Look for foods that have at least 20% of the DV for vitamins A and C, calcium and iron.
- Pick foods that are rich in dietary fiber: A good source has 3 grams and an excellent source has 5 grams per serving.
4. Look for Added Fat/Saturated Fat, Sugars and Sodium
- Refer to the Panel to see if a food contains added fat or sugar. That’s important because these can be “hidden” calories.
- Choose foods that are low in added fat, especially saturated fat.
- Look at the grams of total fat in 1 serving.
- Choose foods that are <20% of the DV for saturated fat and have zero trans-fat as these both raise blood cholesterol.
- Choose foods that include unsaturated fat as these support healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
5. Select foods that are low in added sugar.
Added sugars include these ingredients: brown, confectioner’s, powdered, turbinado, cane, date, invert, sucrose, polydextrose, fructose, maltose, dextrose, syrup (corn, maple and agave), honey, molasses and agave nectar.
Choose Your Foods: Food Lists for Weight Management, American Diabetes Association and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2014, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, American Diabetes Association, Inc®.