Safe Food Preparation
Importance of Reading Food Labels
Serving sizes on food labels are designed to make it easier to compare the calorie and nutritional content of similar products and to identify nutrients present in a food. At a minimum, food labels contain information about serving sizes; calories; calories from fat (dietitians generally recommend that no more than 30% of calories come from fat over the course of the day); percent daily values of major nutrients; total fat; saturated and trans fat (these unhealthy fats are listed under total fat—saturated fat and trans fat raise cholesterol and increase a person's risk for developing heart disease); unsaturated fats (liquid at room temperature, these are the healthy fats); cholesterol; sodium; total carbohydrates (which includes dietary fibers, sugars, and other carbohydrates); protein; vitamins A and C; calcium and iron.
Carbohydrates are the most abundant source of calories in most people’s diets. Carbohydrates are either simple (called sugars) or complex (called starches). Cereals, rice, potatoes, breads, pastas, fruits, and vegetables all contain high amounts of carbohydrates. Not all sugar in food is added. Lactose, or milk sugar, is a natural ingredient in milk. Fruit also has high amounts of naturally occurring sugar.
When reading a food label, it is important to pay attention to the number of servings contained within a package and the amount of saturated fat. Saturated fat contributes to heart disease—the number one killer of adults in the US. Most saturated fats are solid at room temperature. The words, "hydrogenated," "partially hydrogenated," or "shortening,” also are used to describe saturated fats. With true “low-fat” foods, fewer than 30% of the total calories come from fat.
Keywords: calories | diet | food | food label | junk food | nutritional label | nutritional problems | obesity | portion size | nutrition
- Teen Health: Food Labels. The Nemours Foundation.
- How to Understand and Use the Nutrition Facts Label. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S.Department of Health and Human Services.
- Moreno, N.P., Rahmati-Clayton, S., Cutler, P.H., Young, M.S., and Tharp, B. Z. (2006). The science of food and fitness. Houston, TX: Baylor College of Medicine.
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