The FDA has made it a requirement for the food nutrition facts to be clearly labeled on all packaging. The majority of the people pay little attention to this unless they have a food allergy. Who has time to go grocery shopping and read every label in their shopping cart? Understanding the food labels is essential to a healthy diet and critical to those who are experiencing weight problems.
The labels describe the food nutrition facts and other important information about the foods that your children eat. From calories, fiber, and fat grams, to the total of all other food ingredients. Knowing how to read the food labels will help you to provide the healthy nutrients that your family should eat such as: calcium and fiber, and at the same time know about the unhealthy ingredients, like fat, saturated fat, sodium,and cholesterol.
Serving Size: The serving size and number of servings per container or package is critical. Many times people overlook this data. Quite often containers or packages contain more than one serving. If you were to eat a small container yourself when it is labeled as 2 servings you are consuming twice the portions. This is a common way that people overeat. A solution would be to purchase single sized portions or portions just big enough to feed your family. A rule of thumb: 40 calories per serving is considered low in calories, 100 calories per serving is considered moderate in calories, 400 calories and up per serving is considered high in calories.
Total Fat Grams: Learning about the amount of total fat in the foods that you eat will help to maintain a low fat diet. Understand that unsaturated fats are healthier than saturated fats and trans fats. It is recommended to keep your fat intake at 30% or less of which saturated fats should consist of 1/3 or less. For example: A serving that contains 100 calories should have 30% or less total fat and 10% or less saturated fats. In addition solid fats contain a lot of saturated and/or trans fats. Examples would be: butter, beef fat, pork fat, vegetable oils, hydrogenated vegetable oils, and shortening. Some animal by products also contain a lot of saturated and trans fats. Vegetable oils, however, consist of more monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Palm kernel oil and coconut oil being the exception.
Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are sugars and starches that our bodies process into glucose, which our cells and muscles need for energy. For children half of their caloric intake should come from carbohydrates. It is important to know that there are good carbs and bad carbs. Rather than eat foods that are high in simple sugars you would be better off choosing more starchy foods such as: whole grain breads, rice, potatoes, pasta, and cereals. Whole wheat pasta, whole wheat breads, brown rice, and whole grain cereals are good choices for whole wheat foods. When reading the ingredients on the food nutrition facts label try to avoid added sugars and if they are listed as the first few ingredients look for better alternatives. Some common added sugars are high-fructose corn syrup, juice concentrate, sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, honey, maple syrup, and maltrose.
Dietary Fiber: Eating a high fiber diet is an important part of a healthy diet. High fiber diet helps prevent cancer, heart disease, obesity, and other ailments. For children the amount of daily fiber should be their age plus 5 in grams. Example: 16 year old would need 21 grams of fiber. 16+5=21g. According to the food nutrition facts fruits, vegetables, breads, and whole grain cereal are excellent sources of fiber.
Vitamins And Minerals: The food nutrition facts also contain data on certain vitamins and minerals that children need including calcium and iron. Keep in mind that less than 5% of daily value is considered low in vitamins and minerals and over 20% of daily value is considered high in vitamins and minerals. A happy medium would be between 10% and 20% of the daily value per serving. Generally calcium rich foods consist of 20% to 30% of a child’s daily value per serving. If your child doesn’t get enough milk or other dairy products, which are high in calcium, check the food nutrition facts for foods that contain high calcium to compensate. Teenagers, on the other hand, need more than 100% of the daily value of calcium. 130% is about right as listed on the food container.
Cholesterol And Sodium: It is important to limit the amount of sodium and cholesterol in your childrens diet. Knowing that less than 5% of the daily value is low and over 20% of the daily value is high should help you choose foods that are in the normal range. When reading the food nutrition facts look for foods with under 140mg of sodium per serving. If the packaging lists the sodium as low or very low in sodium it is a good choice. Foods that are low in cholesterol should be under 20mg per serving.
Proteins: Proteins are needed to maintain lean muscle mass and are a critical element to overall health. Generally protein should be between 10% and 12% of your child’s daily calories. Be aware that many children get more protein than they need particularly if they consume eggs, meat, and dairy products. Beans, nuts, and soy also contain proteins.
Percent Daily Values: Since less than 5% of the daily value is low and over 20% of the daily value is high for food ingredients; fat, cholesterol, sodium, saturated fats, and trans fats should be low in daily value percentage. A rule of thumb is to eat less than 100% of the daily value for these components. On the other hand, you should eat at least 100% of the daily values for calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, iron, and dietary fiber.
Those are the main food nutrition facts. Eating healthy and getting exercise is a matter of survival. Too much of one or not enough of the other is asking for trouble. Amazing things happen when you get good nutrition.