Calories. The number of calories listed on a food label tells you how many calories are in one serving. It’s important to remember that even small packages often contain more than one serving.
Carbohydrate. A sugar or starch such as pasta, bread, fruits. vegetables, beans, or dairy that the body uses as its main energy source. Carbohydrates have 4 calories a gram.
Cholesterol . Vital for building hormones and cell membranes. Your body makes most of the cholesterol it needs. Cholesterol is listed under the fat information on a nutrition label. Most people should consume less than 300 mg of cholesterol daily.
Daily value. This shows the percentage of a certain nutrient in a food, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. The daily value gives you an idea of a food’s nutrient contribution to your diet; 5% or less is considered low for that nutrient, 10% to 19% is good, and 20% or more is high.
Dietary fiber . The part of plant foods that we cannot digest. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds contain fiber. Fiber helps fill you up, can help lower cholesterol, and keeps you regular. You need at least 25 to 38 grams daily. To be considered high in fiber, a food must contain least 5 grams per serving.
Enriched. Enriched foods have nutrients added to them to replace those lost during food processing. B vitamins, for example, are lost when wheat is processed into white flour, so these nutrients are later added back.
Fortified. Fortified foods have nutrients added to them that weren’t there originally. Milk, for example, is fortified with vitamin D, a nutrient that helps you absorb milk’s calcium.
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A sweetener that is often used instead of sugar in food manufacturing.
Hydrogenated. Hydrogenation turns a liquid fat such as vegetable oil into a semi-solid, more shelf-stable fat, such as margarine. Most oils are only partially hydrogenated, which creates harmful trans fats that can raise cholesterol.
Lecithin. Added to chocolates, baking products, and cosmetics, lecithin is used as a thinner, a preservative, or an emulsifier. Egg yolks, soy beans, fish, and other foods naturally contain lecithin.
Modified food starch. Extracted from corn, potato, wheat, and other starches, modified food starch is used as a thickener, stabilizer, or fat replacer in foods like dessert mixes, dressings, and confections.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG). Used as a flavor enhancer, MSG is like salt. Though some people may have a mild reaction after consuming MSG, the FDA recognizes MSG as “generally safe” when “eaten at customary levels.”
Monounsaturated fat. A healthy fat found in foods such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados. When used to replace saturated fats, a diet high in monounsaturated fats can help lower bad cholesterol. Most of the fat in your diet should be mono- and polyunsaturated. All fats have 9 calories per gram.
Partially hydrogenated.See hydrogenated.
Polyunsaturated fat. A fat found in foods such as walnuts, salmon, and, soybean oil. Polyunsaturated fats provide essential fatty acids such as omega-3s and omega-6s to your diet. Most of the fat you eat should be mono- and polyunsaturated.
Potassium . Essential for life, potassium helps maintain normal blood pressure and keeps your heart and kidneys working normally. Potassium is found in bananas, nuts, potatoes, dairy, and other foods. Adults should aim for 4,700 milligrams of potassium daily.
Saturated fat. Usually solid at room temperature, saturated fats are found in animal products such as meat and milk, as well as in coconut and palm oil. Saturated fat is often used in foods to prevent rancidity and off flavors. No more than 5% to 10% of your total daily calories should come from saturated fat.
Serving size. This section of a nutrition label helps you determine the number of calories and amount of each nutrient in a recommended serving of a food. USDA serving sizes are often smaller than you might eat. So read labels carefully. Even small packages often contain more than one serving.
Sodium. While sodium (commonly called salt) is vital for healthy nerves and muscles, most of us get too much salt in our diet, often from processed foods. Read food labels to help keep your sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams a day or less. Persons 51 and older, African Americans, or people who have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease should limit sodium to 1500 milligrams daily.
Sugars. This section of the nutrition label refers to added sugars such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, and corn and maple syrups. It also includes natural sugars such as lactose in milk and fructose in fruit. If you are concerned about your intake of sugar, be sure added sugars are not one of the first few items in a food’s ingredients list.
Total calories. This number on a food label indicates how many calories are in a single serving of a food.
Total carbohydrate. This number on a food label indicates how many grams of carbohydrates are in a single serving of a food.
Total fat. This number on a food label indicates how much fat is in a single serving of a food. Limit total fat to less than 25% to 35% percent of the calories you consume each day. All fats have 9 calories per gram.
Trans fat. Trans fats are created when liquid fats such as vegetable oil are hydrogenated into more solid fats, such as margarine and shortening. Trans fats are linked with high LDL cholesterol, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Keep intake of trans fats as low as possible.
Whole grain. Whole grain foods include the bran, nutrient-rich germ, and endosperm of grains such as wheat, oats, or rice. Examples include brown rice, corn, and whole wheat bread. Whole grain foods have more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than processed white grains. Eating more whole grains can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.