Knowing how to read a food label is an important part of eating a healthy, balanced diet. Food labels:
- Give you information to help make healthier choices
- Let you see what’s in the foods you eat
- Help you compare the nutrition in different foods
- Help you stay on track with your daily nutrition targets
- List common allergic ingredients in the food
As you look at a food label, here are some helpful things to keep in mind. Your dietary needs may be different. Be sure to follow the guidelines from your transplant team or dietitian.
- Under Nutrition Facts, you’ll find the serving size and how many servings are in the package. Serving size is based on how much people usually eat. Just below are the number of calories in each serving. Adjust the numbers if your serving size is different than the one on the label.
- The next section lists the nutrients most people want to keep track of in each serving.
- Total fat. It also lists the “bad” fats if there are any. Saturated and trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated fats) aren’t healthy. They raise cholesterol and increase the risk for heart disease. A healthy food choice typically has 5 percent or less saturated or trans fat. Your transplant team may suggest less.
- Cholesterol. Foods that are high in cholesterol are usually high in saturated fats.
- Sodium (salt). Most adults should eat less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of salt in a day. Those who had a transplant often need to eat less than that.
- Carbohydrates, sugar and fiber. Most adults should eat 45 to 65 percent of their total calories as carbohydrates (or carbs). It’s important that these are healthy carbs instead of sugary ones. The label also says how much sugar is in each serving, including any sugar that was added to the food. Most adults shouldn’t eat more than about 50 grams (g) of added sugar in a day. A healthy food choice usually has 5 percent or less added sugars. Your transplant team may suggest less than that. Fiber is also listed in this section. Eating fiber is important in the diet. Most adults should eat 25g to 35g of fiber every day.
- Protein. Most adults should eat 10 to 35 percent of their calories as protein, especially lean protein.
- The third section lists other important nutritional numbers. You’ll always see vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium here. Sometimes other nutrients are added.
- On the right side of the label, you can see the ingredients listed in percent. It tells you what percent of the nutrient you are getting if you eat about 2,000 calories per day. The goal is to get 100 percent of each. You may have a different target, but this gives you an idea.
A food label lists the ingredients in the food from the most to the least. And it lists common ingredients in the food people may be allergic to. For example, it might say “CONTAINS: soy, wheat, dairy”.
Using the food label can help you choose foods that fit into your eating plan. Better nutrition choices can help you feel well and stay well.