Quick Tips on Using the Nutrition Facts Panel

by Raya Beerbower, MRH Dietetic Intern

The Nutrition Facts panel can be a great source of information about the food you eat. However, it may not be very clear how to decide the MOST important to focus on. Typically, I recommend looking out for saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and vitamins/minerals.

Why? Because according to the American Heart Association,

  • Eating foods that contain lots of saturated fats raises the level of cholesterol in your blood. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

  • Eating less sodium lowers your blood pressure and/or prevents you from developing high blood pressure (HBP or hypertension).

  • Reducing the amount of added sugars you eat cuts calories and can improve your heart health and control your weight.

  • Eating good sources of key vitamins and minerals will help you get the beneficial nutrients your body needs without consuming too many calories.

Next to these items on the nutrition label, you will find a percent daily value listed as % DV. Any item 5% or lower is considered a minor source of that ingredient. Anything 20% or higher is considered a good source of that ingredient.

Here is a visual guide provided by the FDA:

  • You can see from the picture that these nutrients are listed in the following order from top to bottom: Saturated fat comes first, then sodium, added sugars, and lastly, vitamins/minerals.

What’s the difference between total sugars and added sugars?

  • Total sugars are the total amount of sugars present in the food item (those that are naturally present and those that have been added during processing).

  • Added sugars are the sugars that have been added during processing only. These are the ones you especially want to limit because they are nonessential and add extra calories.

When choosing foods, try to pick those with 5% DV or lower of saturated fat, sugar, and salt.

  • If the food has vitamins and minerals listed on the label (they won’t always), try to eat foods with 20% DV or more listed beside the vitamins and minerals list. The key nutrients on the updated Nutrition Facts Panel are Vitamin D, Calcium, Iron, and Potassium. The FDA selected these because many people are deficient in these nutrients.

One easy way to include more vitamins and minerals in your diet is by eating more fruits and vegetables. Aim towards filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at every meal.

  • You might notice that when you choose fresh fruits and vegetables, they have no labels. Why? They have no added ingredients. Plus, they are great for you!

  • Fill your plates with fresh, canned, frozen, or dried fruits and veggies—whatever you prefer!

  • Note: When choosing canned/dried fruits and vegetables, pick “low-sodium,” “no salt added,” or “low-sugar,” and “no sugar added” options. When choosing frozen veggies, pick those with no added sauces.

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