Nutrition labels are in front of us every day, from that bowl of cereal you gulp down in the morning, to the carton of ice cream you indulge in at night. They tell us a lot about the food we’re eating, but the more information they hold, the more daunting they look. Here are our top three tips to digesting that nutrition label.

Start by looking at the serving size AND calories.

Have you ever measured out ½ cup of cereal to see how much a serving really is? It’s important to watch how much you’re consuming in relation to the calorie count. The serving sizes are standardized—they’re set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)—and they’re measurements, not recommendations. A mysteriously deceptive “single-serve” bag of chips may actually have double the servings, so be careful!

Focus on the nutrients you need and avoid the nutrients you don’t. Envision_April_Article1_1024x512_label

The nutrients you WANT include dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, and other vitamins. Try to AVOID high amounts of saturated fats, trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils, etc.), and sodium (not just salt!). They may increase your risk of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure.

Get familiar with the Percent Daily Value (%DV).

The percent daily value (%DV) should be used as a baseline to determine the nutrition level in a particular food. It’s typically based on a 2,000 calorie diet—a moderately active woman, or fairly inactive man—so be cautious if you need more or less. A good rule of thumb from the FDA is that if a food has 5%DV or less, it’s considered to have a low concentration of that nutrient, and anything that’s 20%DV or more is a high concentration.

Some nutrients like protein, trans fat, and sugars may not have a %DV. There are different types of proteins and sugars, so no daily value has been established. In general, the average woman should consume 46g of protein a day and the average man 56g. Always remember to limit trans fat and refined sugars for a balanced diet.

Here are a few more tips to remember when looking at food labels:

  • If a food has 0g Trans Fat, but has partially hydrogenated oil” listed as an ingredient, it means that there’s still trans fat, but less than 0.5g per serving. Better to avoid trans fat altogether and go with another option without partially hydrogenated oil.
  • The “Percent Daily Values” box at the bottom of the nutrition label is the same on all foods. It’s a general guideline for all of us and isn’t food specific.

The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only. Please consult your eyecare doctor or physician for actual advice.