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Interpreting Nutrition Labels

Ever get stuck trying to figure out what is so important on nutrition facts? Here some general information on nutrients that might appear on a nutrition label and how they benefit you!

  •  Calories- energy that your body needs to function! In general, your body is pretty attuned to letting you know when you are hungry and need more calories- do not stress over counting them. Worried about interpreting your body cues? Drink plenty of water and trust any hunger pangs that come from the stomach and below. Eat to feel physically nourished –do not hesitate to eat when you feel truly hungry.

  • Fat- there are two main types that differ in their chemical structure.3Major sources of fats should only comprise about a third of our daily intake of food. Saturated and trans fat- the less favorable types that increase the amount of negative cholesterol in the blood (LDL which clogs the blood stream).
    • Saturated fat intake should be limited while trans fat intake should be strongly avoided.2
    • Unsaturated- polyunsaturated and monounsaturated both decrease unhealthy LDL cholesterol while raising the amount of positive cholesterol (HDL which transports unneeded cholesterol to the liver to be removed from the body).2 These are the kinds of fats you want to eat more of!

  • Dietary Fiber- Regulates the digestive system in two forms:
    • Soluble fiber slows the movement of nutrients in the small intestines to optimize nutrient absorption which helps to regulate blood sugar levels and the proper functioning of the digestive system.9
    • Insoluble fiber regulates bowel movements and decreases the risk for colon cancer by reducing the amount of time that carcinogenic wastes are in the colon.9
    • Recommended daily intake of fiber for adults is 21-38 grams.2
  • Sugar- a kind of carbohydrate that provides energy.3 Natural sugars in fruits provide more nutritional benefit than refined sugars that come in the form of high fructose corn syrup or added sugars.8 Unnatural sugars should be limited to approximately 36- 56 grams daily. Keep in mind that the more active you are, the higher your need is for carbohydrates such as sugars.1

  • Protein-amino acid chains that structure the body.3 Recommended daily intake varies between individuals depending on their size; one needs about 7 grams of protein per 20 pounds of body weight.2

  • Cholesterol- a form of fat needed by the body to create hormones, enzymes and maintain cells and the nervous system.3 Daily intake for adults is should not exceed 300 milligrams.1

  • Sodium- helps to balance out pressure on the cells of the body.3 Recommended daily intake for adults is less than 2,300 milligrams daily. A low-sodium food contains less than 140 milligrams.1

  • Vitamin A- an anti-oxidant vitamin needed for healthy vision, skin and internal organs. 3 Recommended daily intake is 2333 IU for women and 3000 IU for men.7

  • Vitamin B12- a vitamin needed for healthy blood that is only found naturally in animal products. Vegetarians and vegans have to supplement their diets with B12.3 Recomended daily intake for adults is 2.4 mcg.7
  • Vitamin C- a vitamin essential to the healing process and maintaining the immune system. 3 Recommended daily intake is 90 mg for men and 75 mg for women.7

  • Vitamin D- a vitamin that maintains bone health by absorbing minerals such as calcium and plays a role in ridding the body of infections.2 Recommended daily intake for adults is 200 IU.7

  • Vitamin E- an anti-oxidant vitamin that helps to form red blood cells and fight diseases associated with aging.5 Recommended daily intake for adults is 15 mg.7

  • Vitamin K- a vitamin that aids in blood clotting and maintaining bone density.2 Recommended daily intake is 90 mcg for women and 120 mcg for men.7

  • Iron- a mineral that is an important part of red blood cells and plays a key role in the distribution of oxygen throughout the body.3Recommended daily intake is 8 mg for men and 18 mg for women.7

  • Calcium- a mineral that supports the development and maintenance of strong healthy bones as well as the proper functioning of muscles, nerves and the heart.3 Recommended daily intake for adults is 1,000 mg.7

  • Zinc- a mineral that supports the immune system, maintains cell functioning, breaks down carbohydrates for energy and promotes the sense of smell and taste.5 Recommended daily intake is 11 mg for men and 8 mg for women.7

  • Magnesium-a mineral needed for muscle movement (contraction and relaxation), the release of energy, the creation of protein and enzyme functioning.5 Recommended daily intake is 310 mg for women and 400 mg for men.7

  • Potassium- an electrolyte responsible for regulating the body's balance of acids and bases, creating protein and stimulating muscle development overall growth.5 Recommended daily intake is 4700 mg.7

  • Folate/folic acid- a type of B vitamin necessary for using, synthesizing and breaking down proteins such as red blood cells and DNA. It's an important building block of the body often deficient in young people, especially women who are pregnant or taking oral contraceptives. Recommended daily intake is 400-600 mcg. 5

  • Omega 3 Fatty Acid-  a form of polyunsaturated fat needed for controlling blood clotting, building cell membranes in the brain, preventing heart disease and stroke. Daily recommendation is one rich serving, such as a handful of walnuts, a tablespoon of canola oil or 3 oz. of salmon.2

  • Omega 6 Fatty Acid- a form of polyunsaturated shown to decrease the negative LDL cholesterol and prevent heart disease. It is recommended to supplement Omega-6 in the forms of safflower, corn, cottonseed, and soybean oils.2 In a healthy diet, there should be a ratio of four omega-6 fatty acids to one omega-3 fatty acid.6


***When it comes to nutrition facts, take everything with a grain of salt. It is more important to have a balanced approach to eating than to get stuck on the exact amount of calories or grams of fat in all of your foods. Eating the proper amounts of nutrient-dense foods even if they are a little higher in caloric value is better than eating a lot of low-fat, low-calorie foods with no nutritional value. In fact, the more low-nutrient dense food one consumes, the harder it becomes to get enough nutrients for your body without eating excess calories.1***