According to the FDA, the nutritional value label is a determinant factor of choice between 2 similar products. When the taste is similar, people tend to choose the healthier option based on the nutritional value label. But for that, you actually have to read and understand what’s in there beyond the calories content.
Let’s take a look at the nutritional label sections:
Serving size: This tells us what is one portion, which can help us with portion control. It also helps us to compare the nutritional value between two products. To have an accurate comparison, we have to make sure that we are comparing similar serving size, ideally in weight.
Calories: calories content is quite simple. If you eat more calories you burn, you gain weight. And while all calories are not equal in regards of health, it’s still a good indicator to make sure your overall calories intake is balanced.
According to the FDA guidelines,
- 40 Calories is low
- 100 Calories is moderate
- 400 Calories or more is high
Substances to keep low:
Fats: Usually, the lower the better, especially for trans fats. Trans fats are among the worst for health, so do your best to avoid it completely.
Sodium: Corresponds to the salt content. Too much salt can lead to severe health problems, and the average American diet contains far too much of it. Choose items lower in sodium for optimum health.
Sugars: While the sugar content includes both natural and added sugars, it’s still better to keep this value as low as possible. Because even if natural sugars are far healthier than added ones, all sugars, natural or not, are inflammatory. This can lead to insulin resistance, and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, but also increase the risk of developing inflammation related diseases.
Substances to keep high:
Fiber: Dietary fiber has many health benefits, and most people in North America should eat more of them. Choosing fiber rich food does not only helps with regularity. It can lower your cholesterol, support the body’s detoxification efforts, and prevent many chronic diseases.
Vitamins: I think everybody now understand the importance of vitamins in general. However, some vitamins are more difficult to get, especially on a special diet. Vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin E, and those from the B complex like B12 and B6 can play a special role in your health, and worth being aware of your daily intake.
Minerals: Calcium is probably one of the most looked for in this category. But other minerals also deserve your attention, especially zinc. As for the vitamins and fibers, try to aim for the highest values possible.
As a rule of thumb, a daily value: 5% or less is low and 20% or more is high. Remember that the nutritional label is based on a 2000 calories diet!
The nutritional label and the ingredient list works hand in hand to give us the information we need to make healthier choices. Taking the time to read them really worth it!
What do you use to assess the health effect on a certain food? Do you have specific criteria? Do you think that the nutritional labels are complete? What would you like to see on them?