“Nutrition Facts” for a Healthy Lifestyle
Consumers are becoming more concerned with nutrition than ever before. Whether it’s because of dietary-specific needs, sports nutrition or healthy lifestyle changes, more and more individuals are looking at the “Nutrition Facts” and ingredients on product labels.
By reading labels and comparing them across similar products, consumers are better able to assess products’ nutritional values. Take protein for example. We’ve seen a growing consumer interest around the benefits of protein. Protein is essential in your daily intake for energy. It helps you stay full longer and is important in maintaining lean body mass. To calculate how many grams of protein your body needs each day, multiply your body weight by 0.7. Some also recommend the 1:10 ratio, which states you should consume one gram of protein for every 10 calories. Looking at products’ nutritional values helps ensure you are getting your recommended daily intake of protein.
How to assess products’ nutritional values
Nutritional values are based on the contents of ingredients and the impact they have on the body. The essential components of a human diet are: calories, cholesterol, carbohydrates, fats, fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, sugar and sodium intake. The Nutritional Fact Panel (the label titled “Nutrition Facts”) is the primary tool for individuals to understand products’ nutritional values. For most products in a grocery store, you can find the Nutritional Fact Panel on the back of the packaging. For some ingredients, like fruits and vegetables, there isn’t a Nutritional Fact Panel. However, it’s easy to find the nutritional value for these ingredients online. Simply visit the United States Department of Agriculture’s online food composition database.
When reading the Nutritional Fact Panel, it is helpful to know the recommended daily allowances for a healthy adult. This is usually based on a 2,000-calorie diet. According to the American Heart Association, these recommendations include:
- Cholesterol: 300 milligrams or less for those without heart disease and 200 milligrams or less for those with heart disease
- Fat: 25 to 35 percent of total calories
- Sodium: less than 2,300 mg but ideally 1,500 mg per day
- Fiber: 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories
- Sugar: no more than 100 calories of added sugar for women and 150 calories of added sugar for men
Now, let’s look at a few of the essential components listed on a food product’s Nutritional Fact Panel.
A calorie is a unit of energy that is within protein, carbohydrates and fat. The calorie totals on the Nutritional Fact Panel relate to how much energy your body could get from eating or drinking that product. Your body needs calories daily to function and you burn off these calories through your daily activity.
As noted above, protein is essential in your daily intake for energy. Proteins function as building blocks for bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. They also are building blocks for enzymes, hormones, and vitamins. Proteins are one of three nutrients that provide calories—the other two are fat and carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates (carbs) are needed in order for your body to function well! They are a main source of energy, an essential part of a healthy diet, and provide many important nutrients. There are three types of carbs: fiber, starch and sugar. Carbs are not created equal and there are good carbs and bad carbs. Avoid the bad carbs and limit your sugar intake and refined grains. Instead, choose fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Whole fruits and vegetables have fiber and water which can help you feel fuller throughout the day.
We all need a certain amount of fats in our diet to function, and our bodies can’t make it from scratch. Our bodies use fats to store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs.
Fiber helps move the digestive process along. High fiber foods also can aid in hunger control and help you stay full longer.
Your overall goal—dietary-specific needs, sports nutrition or healthy lifestyle changes—will determine what aspects of the Nutritional Fact Panel you should pay more close attention to. No matter what the goal is, we should all strive to eat as healthy as we can and consume a consistent balance of the components described above. And, it’s important to remember, we are all human! It is OK to indulge from time to time, but in moderation and with the end-goal in mind: a healthy lifestyle.