Do You Know How Much Salt is in that Soup?

Army Veteran George Lutz discusses healthy food choices and nutrition labels with dietetic intern Amanda Biondo at the VA Medical Center in Bay Pines, Florida. Over the last five years, Lutz has lost more than 150 pounds with help from VA and his continued focus on personal health and well-being.

VA Photo by Jason Dangel, Public Affairs Officer, Bay Pines VA

By Amanda Biondo
Bay Pines VA Health Care System Dietetic Intern

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sometimes nutrition and nutrition facts labels can seem complicated. We are going to break it down to help solve the mystery of how to read them!

Serving Size & Servings per Container: The serving size is one of the most important items listed on a label. All of the values listed below the serving size only relate to one serving. Therefore, if you eat double the serving size, you are getting twice as much of everything listed! Different foods have different serving sizes, even within the same category of food. For example, one cereal box may have 1/2 cup as a serving size while a different brand cereal box may have 3/4 cup as a serving size. The servings per container indicates the number of servings in the container or package.

The vitamins/minerals listed on a nutrition facts label are required by law to be on the label

Percent Daily Values: This section is a reference for you. Daily values (DV) are the percent of a nutrient that is provided by a serving of the food you are choosing, and are based on a 2,000-calorie diet. For example, if the label lists 15 percent for calcium, it means that one serving provides 15 percent of the calcium you need each day. Use it to choose foods that are high in the nutrients you should get more of, and low in the nutrients you should get less of. Tip: 5 percent DV or less is low; 20 percent or more is high.

Calories: The calories listed are related to one serving of the food product. To calculate the number of calories, you multiply calories per serving by number of servings prepared or consumed. On some food labels, there is a section for “calories per container.”

nutrition labels

What’s the difference between saturated fats and trans fats?

Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Trans Fat: Indicates the total amount of fat in one serving of this product. Total fat is in a bold font because it is a category. Underneath total fat, saturated fat and trans fat are indented because they are sub-categories of total fat. The nutrients are included in the number listed for total fat. The healthy types of fat are unsaturated fats. These fats are not required to be listed on a nutrition facts label.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is found in all animal products. Examples include: beef, chicken, eggs, cheese, milk, fish, yogurt, and butter.

Sodium: Indicates the total amount of sodium (the mineral in salt) in one serving of this product.

Total carbohydrate: Total carbohydrate is in a bold font because it is a category. Underneath total carbohydrate, dietary fiber, sugar and sugar alcohol is indented because they are included in the value for total carbohydrate. If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, one carb choice or serving of a carbohydrate-rich food has about 15 grams of carbohydrate. Dietary fiber is very important for our heart health and to keep bowel movements regular.

Note: the vitamins/minerals listed on a nutrition facts label are required by law to be on the label. If you have questions about the amount of a vitamin or mineral that is not listed on the nutrition facts label, you can either check the ingredients list or contact the manufacturer directly.More information?

The National Institute of Health has some great food shopping tips.

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