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One of the most beneficial tools when you are "Counting Calories" is the knowledge on How To Read A Nutrition Label correctly. The government has also assisted us with this endeavor, in that they have made it a law that all foods sold both in a grocery store or even in a restaurant has to have Nutrition Facts available to the consumer. I thought we would use a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese to demonstrate how to read a nutrition label correctly.  That way, you can also see how you can read a nutrition label and realize that certain foods are just not good for you no matter how you spin the information. Grab a box of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, 7.25 oz., and refer to the side of the box where it reads Nutrition Facts


Serving Size - Under Nutrition Facts you will read Serving Size 2.5 oz. Then it reads that there are 3 servings in this box, each of which should be around 1 cup of finished product. So, if the label says "one cup" per serving size and there are "three servings per box." that means there are three servings in the whole box. For example, If you are planning on eating the whole box by yourself, knowing that there are three servings in the box, you must double all the nutrition facts measurements to know your total intake of each nutrient. Below Serving Size, you will see Calories and Calories From Fat.

Calories - You will notice that next to Calories it gives you both calories As Packaged product (which would be raw noodles and dry cheese, so do not want that), and calories As Prepared (cooked noodles with the milk, cheese, and butter added). Remember that the Nutrition Facts listed on this label is based on a 2,000 calories a day diet. Depending on your goals, you may need to consume more or less of these 2,000 calories a day. If your daily goal is well below 2,000 calories, then use the percentages as a frame of reference, realizing that most will need to be below the label percentages. Basically, you will have to eat less of the product depending on the outcome of the percentages that you read on the food items label. That being said, 40 calories per serving is considered low. 100 calories per serving is considered moderate, and 400 calories per serving is considered high. From the information on the Macaroni and Cheese Nutrition label, there are 400 calories (as prepared), in each single serving. So, you already know that this amount of calories in one serving is high based on a 2,000 calorie a day diet. Wanting to consume even less calories to reach your goals, these 400 calories per serving is going to be considered even higher that recommended. Listed below Calories you will see Calories From Fat.

Calories From Fat - When it comes to tracking your fat intake every day, AIM LOW!!! For an overall healthy lifestyle, choose foods with a big difference between the total number of calories and the number of calories from fat. As prepared, the Kraft Macaroni and Cheese has 160 of its 400 calories per serving from fat. So, almost half of the calories you would be consuming per 1 cup would be from fat. "Shut The Front Door." Under the Calories and Fat From Calories on the label it reads, % Daily Value.

% Daily Value - Daily values are listed for people who are consuming between 2,000 and 2,500 calories a day. If you are eating less, your personal Daily Value will be lower of course. The % Daily Value tells you the percent of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount. You can refer to the Food Guide Pyramid located under the Body Works on this web site. If your goal is to consume less calories choose foods with a lower % Daily Value - 5 percent or less is low, 20 percent or more is high. Under the % Daily Value, you will see Total Fat Grams on the label. 

Total Fat Grams - When consumed in moderation, fat is essential for an overall healthy body. In addition, fat provides hair and skin with essential moisture and elasticity. The Mayo Clinic states that the recommended intake of total fat grams per day is between 44 and 78 grams. I am going to say, "WOW! That seems really high to me." Learn to keep your fat intake at or below 30% of your caloric intake per day especially when reaching your goals. Notice that the label here reads only 2 grams of fat. Read a little lower on the label. Under IRON, the label, in small letters of course, reads "Amount in box, Preparation with Margarine and 2% Reduced Fat Milk, adds 15 grams of total fat (3g saturated fat, 4 g trans fat)." Those 15 grams are addition to the 2 grams of fat as stated on the label. Do you recall reading that foods containing 20 percent or more total % Daily Value is considered higher than recommended for a healthy diet? As stated on the Macaroni and Cheese label, 26% come from fat, with 20% from Saturated fat. Saturated fat is part of the total fat found in food. It is listed separately because of the health risks associated with Saturated Fat in foods and the risk of heart disease. So, in a nut shell, EAT LESS!!! Reading a little lower on the label you will see Trans Fat.  Trans Fat is a type of fat created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil, in an attempt to keep the foods fresher longer.  Trans Fat is most commonly seen in baked goods and fried foods. Found under the Total Fat on the label is Cholesterol.

Cholesterol – Looking at the Cholesterol on the Macaroni and Cheese box Nutrition label, the FDA says that you are getting 5 mg per serving, around 2-3% of the recommended amount of cholesterol for a person consuming 2,00o calories a day. Remember those magic numbers 5% and 20%? Anything listed in the percent daily value column that is 5% or less is a low number for nutrients. This is a good range for those things that you want to limit like cholesterol. So, as you can see on the label, Macaroni and Cheese, even after being prepared, has an appropriate amount of cholesterol based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Now, find Sodium, located right under Cholesterol.

Sodium – Let’s go back to the magic numbers 5% and 20%. As the % of cholesterol was found to be adequate, the Sodium reads at 610 mg, 740 mg after preparation, per serving, which is 25-31% of Daily value of nutrients. Anything listed as 20% or higher on the % Daily Value of a label, is considered high. This is a bad range for things that you want to limit, like sodium. A good range for those things you want to eat plenty of like fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins, but definitely not Sodium. Keep your Sodium intake low, no more than 2,400 to 3,000 mg or less a day. Below Sodium, you will find Total Carbohydrates.

Total Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are foods like breads, potatoes, fruits and vegetables, that give you lots of energy and nutrients. The first thing to look at is the total grams of carbohydrates. If it is very high and your goal is to reduce your body fat and overall weight, put the item back on the supermarket shelf. Even coming from a “Good” source, too many carbohydrates at once, will increase you blood glucose very fast. 49 grams of carbohydrates on the Macaroni and Cheese Nutrition label means to put it back on the shelf. Below Total Carbohydrates reads Dietary Fiber @ 2-3 grams, and Sugars @ 7 grams. Notice that 2-3 grams plus 7 grams do not add up to the 49 grams of carbohydrates listed on the Macaroni and Cheese label. This tells us that the 39 grams of carbohydrates left are from starch, and starch usually raises blood glucose. Located under Total Carbohydrates, Dietary Fiber and Sugars, is Protein.

Protein – Proteins are made up of smaller units called Amino Acids. Our bodies cannot manufacture nine of the essential Amino Acids, so we must get these from the foods we eat. Since the body is continually using up proteins, we must attempt to continually eat small protein portions throughout the day. Animal protein sources such as Chicken and Fish give us all of the essential Amino Acids that our bodies need to complete a protein, and many plant sources can also contribute. Nutritionists recommend the method of multiplying our body weight in pounds by .37. This total count would be the recommended grams of protein recommended in our daily diet. Of course, the more active a person is, the more protein a person requires per day. The 9 grams of protein found in a single serving of Macaroni and Cheese, is not bad, but again, beside the milk, does not come from an animal source. Located at the bottom of a Nutrition label you will find information on important Vitamins and Minerals.

Vitamins and Minerals – Your goal her is 100% of each for the day. Let a combination of foods throughout your day add to 100%. As you notice on the Macaroni and Cheese label, not too good on the extremely important Vitamins and Minerals.

You can now buy foods with confidence. Read every food product label to assist you in choosing foods that make up a healthier, low calorie, low fat, high fiber diet.