BROOKINGS - Nutrition labels can be confusing for anyone, even the most health conscious individual, explains Megan Sexton, SDSU Extension Nutrition Field Specialist.
"The nutrition label that is found on all food items is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration to ensure all information about a food product is disclosed," Sexton said. "Even though these labels are rich with information it does take some education before you are comfortable enough to navigate them."
When reviewing a nutrition label, these are the items Sexton says an individual needs to pay attention to.
Serving Size - Often products have multiple servings in one package, for example a large sports drink (32 oz.) contains four, 8 ounce servings.
"This means that drinking the entire bottle would quadruple the numbers on the nutrition label. It is important to notice the serving sizes and how much you are consuming at one time. We often consume excess calories because our portion sizes are too large," she said.
Calories - All foods contribute calories that we use for energy and our bodies need a certain level of calories to function. Sexton says by tracking how many total calories are consumed in a day people can better control their weight loss, maintenance or gain.
Main Nutrients - The first is total fat and the subcategories of saturated fat and trans fat - there can also be subcategories for monounsaturated fat and polyunsaturated fat.
"It is most important to consume foods that contain lower saturated fat and little to no trans-fat. Research shows that monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats have health protecting qualities, while excess saturated and trans fats can be harmful to the cardiovascular system," Sexton said.
Cholesterol - Sexton encourages individuals to consume less that 300mg of cholesterol a day. Cholesterol is found in animal products.
Sodium - Processed foods contain more sodium than fresh foods, and remember to account for any salt that you add in cooking or at the table. Sexton says we should consume 1,500 mg or less per day.
Total Carbohydrates - This section of the "Main Nutrients" food label is broken down into two subcategories, one of which is dietary fiber, which Sexton says we should slowly increase our intake to 25 - 38 grams every day.
The last section under "Main Nutrients" is Protein.
"Protein is important for feeling full and is important to most body regulations," she said. "The amount of protein to consume varies from person-to-person, but looks to consume some protein at each meal or snack."
Percent of Daily Value - This percentage is provided for all of the sections discussed about to help the consumer gage how this food fits into their daily goals. This percentage is based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Vitamins and Minerals - This section includes all vitamins and minerals found in the food item and are expressed in the percent of the average person's daily need.
The Recommended Daily Values - This is based on 2,000 and 2,500 calories. The last part of the nutrition label is a breakdown of what the average person should be consuming in a day. The first row is for a 2,000 calorie diet and the second row is a 2,500 calorie diet.
Sexton reminds readers that these are just generic estimates, for a more thorough and effective measurement of your needs speak with a dietitian or doctor. For more information, visit iGrow.org.