Ever wonder what folks are staring at when they are in the grocery store and reading the nutrition facts label on a can of beans or a loaf of bread? Are you unsure what it all means when you look at a food label? Nutrition labels can be a great tool for managing a heart healthy diet, which makes it very important that you understand what you’re looking at when you read a label.
Nutrition labels are based on a daily 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your age, gender and activity level, you may need to consume more or less than 2,000 calories per day, so keep this in mind when viewing each label.
Now let’s take a look at the parts of the nutrition facts label and break it all down.
Anatomy of a Nutrition Facts Label
This is where you find out how much is considered a single serving of the product. Key changes to the updated nutrition facts label are increased serving sizes to reflect what we actually eat today. However, it is still not the whole pint of ice cream like you were hoping! If you are looking for heart healthy snacks, this measurement can help you to pre-prep snack bags to take to work or keep on hand in your car or purse for quick healthy food options.
This number ties right in to the serving size. The calories listed here are what one single serving holds. If you plan on eating more than a single serving, you have to multiply the total calories by the actual number of servings you consume.
Foods high in cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease. So, look for foods low in cholesterol, such as those found in a plant-based diet.
Fats - Saturated and Trans
If the label indicates that the food is high in saturated fat (no more than 20 grams total for the day), then it is not an ideal food for a heart healthy diet. Saturated fats can raise your low density lipoprotein, or “bad cholesterol”, which can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke.
Trans fats should be avoided altogether, as they have been connected with an increased risk not only of heart disease and stroke, but also Type II diabetes.
For a heart healthy diet, you should always try to keep your sodium intake to about 2300 mg per day. A sodium level of 140 mg or less on the nutrition facts label is considered low sodium. This is an essential number to look for when reading the label.
Total Carbohydrates - Fiber and Sugar
Foods high in fiber can be beneficial to a healthy diet, as fiber helps manage blood sugar levels and can lower cholesterol.
However, if the product contains a large amount of sugar, even if it’s rich in fiber, put the product back on the shelf. Simple sugars can give you that quick burst of energy, but they are not heart smart as they can raise triglyceride levels, which play a role in heart disease and diabetes. Added sugars in grams is now required on the nutrition facts label. It is recommended that you consume no more than ten percent of your total daily calories from added sugar.
Protein is part of an overall healthy diet, but beware of adding unnecessary fats from fatty meats and processed foods.
Vitamins and Other Nutrients
Nutrients like calcium, iron and vitamins play an important role in a healthy diet! This section provides great information to ensure you’re getting the nutrients you need. The daily values for nutrients have been updated on the revised nutrition facts label to reflect new scientific evidence.
In addition to being on the back of your favorite products, nutrition information can be found in more places than usually expected. Restaurants have started to provide full nutrition data as part of their online menus. This is a huge help for those who are looking for healthier dine-out options. Many of your favorite recipe blogs and websites have also started posting labels to accompany the recipes, so the home cook can benefit as well. It is valuable to take your time to care for yourself and read the nutrition facts label to help manage your heart health. Bon appetit!