Understanding the Nutrition Facts Label PART 3
In part 2 of this 3 part series, we examined the differences between Macronutrients and Micronutrients. Using that as a foundation, this final entry will outline, in greater detail, the most common nutrients found on the nutrition facts label.
Total Fat is described as the total amount of fat, in grams, from both animal and plant sources, that exists in one serving of a product.
The nutrition facts label commonly lists quantities of not just the total fat, but the saturated fat and Trans fats found in food products as well.
Saturated fat refers to the type of fat found in animal products. This includes not just meat but dairy as well. It’s recommended that calories from saturated fat not exceed 10% of your daily calorie intake. That’s because too much saturated fat in one’s diet is linked to increased risk of heart disease.
Trans Fat, unlike Saturated fat, is formed through an industrial process that causes liquid oils to become solid at room temperature. This man-made trans-fat is the worst type of fat for one’s health because it raises the type of cholesterol in your body that can cause heart and vascular diseases.
Cholesterol is characterized as a waxy substance found in foods from animal sources. Think meats, fish, dairy, eggs. Us humans do need cholesterol to build healthy cells and to synthesize hormones, but our bodies can make all the cholesterol we need. For that reason, dietary cholesterol should be limited to 300 mg per day or less.
Sodium is the mineral found in table salt (Sodium Chloride, NaCl). However, 70% of sodium in the average American diet comes from packaged and prepared foods, not from adding table salt to food.
While the human body does need sodium – it is an essential electrolyte, helps maintain fluid balance, promote proper muscle and nerve function, and maintain stable blood pressure – it should be limited to 2300mg or less per day.
Total Carbohydrates refers to the total amount of carbohydrates, in grams, that exist in one serving of a food.
Dietary Fiber, A type of carbohydrate listed on the NFP, is “roughage” or “bulk” and includes parts of plant foods that the digestive system cannot digest. It’s found mainly in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes and is important for maintaining a healthy digestive system. The recommendation for daily consumption is about 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
Total Sugars refers to the total amount of sugars both naturally occurring and added. Sugar is naturally found in foods like milk, fruit and grains. But added sugar, like sucrose (table sugar), dextrose (a sugar from corn), syrups (corn syrups, high fructose corn syrup, honey) and sugar from concentrate fruit and vegetable juices, is often added during the food manufacturing process.
Diets high in added sugar make it difficult to meet the daily recommended amounts of important nutrients while staying within calorie limits, which is why it’s generally a good idea to limit added sugar in the diet.
Protein is listed as the total amount of protein, in grams, from both animal and plant sources, that exists in one serving of food. The amount of protein one needs varies depending on differences in age, gender, body size and activity level.
Adults should, at a minimum, consume 5-6 ounces of protein per day. Each ounce of cooked protein (animal or plant-based) contains about 7 grams of protein. For context, a piece of meat that is the size of a deck of cards is 3 ounces and provides 21 grams of protein.
Vitamin D, another nutrient listed on the NFP, is needed for a variety of reasons. To maintain strong bones and teeth. To assist in muscle and nerve function. It even helps your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses.
However, very few foods have naturally occurring Vitamin D, with the exception of fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. Fortunately, foods can be fortified with Vitamin D making it easier for many to maintain healthy levels of the vitamin.
Calcium, a mineral, is the most essential nutrient in bone health. Foods that contain calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, nuts, soy products, green leafy vegetables and foods that are fortified with the mineral.
It’s recommended that adults take in 1000 mg of calcium per day. For context, an 8-oz glass of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium.
Iron, another mineral, is essential for transporting oxygen in the blood from the lungs to other organs and tissues.
The animal sources of iron, found in meat, poultry and seafood, are called “heme iron”and are absorbed efficiently by the body.
However, the plant sources of iron, found in spinach, beans, and enriched grains, are called “non-heme iron” and are not as efficiently absorbed by the body. Pairing Vitamin C rich foods helps increase the absorption rate of these “non-heme” or plant-based sources of iron.
Potassium has many functions. It helps muscles contract. It helps us maintain fluid balance and even blood pressure. This mineral is found in a wide range of fruits and vegetables (potatoes, leafy greens, carrots, nuts) and in animal products like dairy, meat, poultry and fish.
This concludes our 3-part series on the Nutrition Facts Panel. We hope you find it helpful in determining the best foods and quantities for a healthy, balanced diet.