How To Understand The Nutritional Value of Every Day Foods and Packaged Foods

Every bite you eat impacts your health – with each swallow you are either moving toward your weight goal or away from it. So how do you figure out what to eat and how much to eat of it every day? You can calculate this information from reading the nutrition labels on foods.


Serving Size

On the label, the serving size is listed first. The rest of the information on the label is based on the serving size, so it’s important to look closely at it. Is the whole package one serving? Or is it showing the data for one serving but the package is actually three servings? It’s easy to glance at a bag of chips and think ‘Oh, it’s only 100 calories’ when in reality it is really 300 calories for the entire bag.


Percent of Daily Value

The percent of daily value is calculated for a 2,000 calorie day. The nutrient guidelines tell you how much percentage of each nutrient is in the food when compared to that 2,000 calories. As you read through labels, keep these numbers in the back of your mind:

  • Total grams of fat intake per day should be somewhere between 56 – 78 grams (for a 2,000 calorie daily diet). So, if you eat a serving of food that has 10 grams of fat listed, you just ate 15% of your allotted amount of fat for the day.
  • Total amount of sodium per day should be no more than 2,400 milligrams. It seems like a lot until you start looking at labels, especially for foods like ketchup, soup, soda pop, and bread. It adds up quickly!
  • As you look at the vitamins and minerals listed on the labels, you naturally want to strive towards reaching at least 100% of your daily recommended allowance since that is minimum benchmark for maintaining health.


A ‘Handy’ Guide to Portion Size

Now that you know about reading food labels, how do you know when you have a good portion size? Look at your hand. Make a fist. That is about one cup of salad, fresh fruit, casserole, or drink. A cupped hand is about ½ cup serving size. That one is really good for measuring rice, pasta, potatoes, or ice cream. Your palm holds about three ounces, which is one single serving size of meat. Your thumb approximates one tablespoon – good for measuring salad dressings and sour cream. And finally, the tip of your thumb is equal to a teaspoon – perfect for butter, oil, and mayonnaise.