Your Bag (0)



    Nutrition Labels 101

      |  Jan 05, 2024

    Did you know that approximately 59% of consumers report that they always or often read nutritional labels before purchasing food? This demonstrates a growing awareness of the importance of understanding what goes into our bodies. Nutrition labels provide a wealth of insights, but understanding the numbers and percentages can be overwhelming. In this guide to Nutrition Labels, we'll break down the basics, empowering you to decode nutritional information effortlessly.

    1. Start with Serving Size: The Foundation of Understanding

    The serving size is the starting point for interpreting any nutrition label. However, it's important to be aware that serving sizes can sometimes be unrealistic or smaller than what we typically eat. For instance, a single serving of cereal might be listed as one cup, but you might actually pour yourself two cups for breakfast. Take a moment to compare the serving size to your actual portion to get a realistic understanding of the nutritional content.

    Pick this:

    • Single-serving of Greek yogurt with a clear 6-ounce container.

    • One cup of cooked quinoa, as specified in the serving size.

    • A single-serving pouch of instant oatmeal (ideally without added sugar listed in the ingredient list), with serving size information on the package.

    Avoid that:

    • Consuming an entire bag of trail mix without realizing it contains five servings.

    • Pouring a bowl of cereal without checking that the serving size is half a cup.

    • Eating a candy bar assuming it's one serving when it's actually two.

    2. Find the Right Balance with Carbohydrates and Fiber

    Pay attention to the ratio of carbohydrates to fiber, aiming for a maximum 10:1 ratio. For example, if a product has 30 grams of carbohydrates, it's ideal to have at least 3 grams of fiber. This balance is crucial for a healthy diet, promoting sustained energy levels and digestive well-being. Foods with higher fiber content, like whole grains and fruits, are generally more nutritious and can contribute to a feeling of fullness.

    Pick this: 

    • Whole-grain bread with 20 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber, achieving a 5:1 ratio.

    • Whole-grain pasta with 40g of carbohydrates and 8g of fiber per serving.

    • Brown rice with a 20:4 ratio of carbohydrates to fiber.

    • A baked sweet potato, which typically has a ratio of 6g of carbohydrates to 1g of fiber per serving.

    • A piece of fruit, like an apple, which naturally contains fiber along with carbohydrates.

    Avoid that: 

    • Sugary cereal with 30 grams of carbohydrates and only 1 gram of fiber, resulting in a less favorable 30:1 ratio.

    • White bread with 30g of carbohydrates and only 1g of fiber.

    • Fruit-flavored yogurt with high sugar content and minimal fiber.

    3. Keep Sodium in Check: Be Aware of the Levels

    The Food and Drug Association and Nutritionists alike recommend a daily sodium intake of no more than 2300 mg. To put this into perspective, considering the average daily caloric intake is around 2000 calories, it's helpful to view sodium in relation to calories. For example, if a meal contains 500 calories, the sodium content ideally should not exceed 500mg. This approach ensures you maintain a balanced sodium intake relative to your overall caloric needs.

    Pick this: 

    • Choosing a can of soup with 500mg of sodium, aligning with a reasonable portion of your daily limit (we like Annie’s Soups)

    • Canned vegetables with no added salt.

    • A homemade sandwich with fresh ingredients and a modest amount of deli meat.

    • A serving of grilled chicken with herbs and spices rather than a pre-seasoned option.

    • Unsalted roasted nuts for a snack. 

    Avoid that: 

    • Sauces and condiments like tomato sauce or soy sauce with added salt and 500-1000+ mg of sodium per serving. 

    • Breads and rolls that contain 100-200mg of sodium per slice. 

    • Consuming a frozen meal with 1500mg of sodium, surpassing more than half of the recommended daily intake.

    • Consuming a frozen dinner with 1000mg of sodium.

    • Regularly choosing canned soups with high sodium content.

    • A fast-food meal with excessive salt in processed meats and sauces.

    4. Understand the Composition with the Ingredient List

    Ingredients are listed in descending order of proportion, with the first four being the most significant. This order gives valuable insight into the overall composition of the product. Pay close attention to the first few ingredients, as they provide a sense of the product's primary components. Opt for products with whole, recognizable ingredients. 

    Pick this: 

    • Granola bar with whole oats, nuts, and dried fruits listed as the first ingredients (RxBar is our favorite)

    • Peanut butter with peanuts and salt as the only ingredients.

    • Whole-grain crackers with identifiable ingredients like whole wheat flour and seeds.

    • Tomato sauce with tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and herbs listed as the primary ingredients.

    Avoid that: 

    • Granola bars with a long list of additives, artificial flavors, and excessive sugars.

    • Packaged cookies with ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup and artificial preservatives.

    • Frozen pizza with a complex ingredient list containing various additives and preservatives.

    5. Beware of what “Ingredient Buzzwords” Mean.

    Lots of products like to make claims to make their food more attractive or seemingly healthy, but wording both on the packaging and the label is important when understanding the nutritional value of a product. Many of these claims are actually not regulated by the FDA and can be misleading. Terms like “good source of,” “high fiber,” “reduced fat” are FDA regulated but terms like “natural” and “multigrain” are not. Items labeled as “less sugar” or “less fat” may still be high in sugar or fat but better than the reference food. 

    Nutrition labels act as a roadmap to better health, offering insights into the nutritional content of the foods we eat. By understanding the basics of a nutrition label, including serving size, the balance between carbohydrates and fiber, sodium awareness, and ingredient analysis, you empower yourself to make informed and health-conscious choices. Take the time to read and interpret nutrition labels—it's a small effort that can lead to significant improvements in your overall well-being.