LiveWell with Traditions Understanding Food Labels can Improve Your Heart Health

Understanding Food Labels Can Improve Your Heart Health

Food labels (the nutrition information on packages) list the nutrients in food as percentages. They also include the number of calories in each serving and list the product’s ingredients. This information tells you a lot about what you’re putting into your body when you eat and can help you plan heart-healthy, nutritionally dense meals. 

Learning how to read food labels is an important skill that can help you improve and maintain your health. Don’t let the numbers, percentages, and small font intimidate you—it’s easy to read food labels!

What information do food labels provide?

Food label information includes: 

  • Ingredients
  • The number of calories per serving
  • The amount of nutrients per serving

Food labels also list the number of recommended servings per container and the size of each recommended serving; this information is located at the top of the label. These are important facts to recognize because everything else noted is based on the serving size, not the total package. 

The next section lists the food’s nutritional composition. In addition to a measurement in grams, a food label lists a percentage next to each nutrient. This is the percentage of the consumer’s daily recommended intake of that nutrient that’s in each serving. For example, a food label might list a serving containing 37 grams of carbohydrates or 13% of the consumer’s daily recommended carbohydrate intake. Over the course of a day, an individual should aim to consume 100% of their daily recommended intake for each nutrient. Therefore, food labels make it easy to track your nutritional consumption. 

If you’re choosing foods for heart health, this is the most important part of the food label to read because it tells you whether a food is high in sodium and/or saturated fat—and if it is, that’s a food you should avoid.

The last section lists the vitamins contained in each serving. Just like in the section above, the vitamins are listed with their actual measurement per serving as well as the percentage of one’s daily recommended intake of each that each serving provides. 

Keep in mind that the daily recommended intake of each nutrient is calculated for the average consumer and that individual nutritional needs vary. Your doctor can recommend specific nutritional guidelines based on your age, weight, activity level, overall health level, and existing health conditions. 

How to read food labels

Before you read a food label, determine what you want to know. Are you looking for: 

  • Foods that provide a specific number of calories per serving, or stay below or go above a certain number of calories?
  • Low-sodium foods?
  • Low-fat foods?
  • Foods that contain certain allergens?
  • Foods that provide sufficient amounts of certain nutrients?

If you are looking for multiple pieces of information about a food product, read the label with your specific questions in mind, knowing where to find the answers. For heart health, pay close attention to the amounts of sodium and saturated fat in the food. Excessive consumption of these nutrients can increase your risk of increased blood pressure, heart attack, and stroke. 

The nutrition label on many products is quite small. If you have difficulty reading smaller labels, use a magnifying glass to make the label appear larger. Another way you can make reading food labels easier is to shine a flashlight on the label, illuminating its numbers and making them easier to read. 

Frequently asked questions about food labels

Who regulates food labels? 

In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates food labels. 

How are ingredients listed on food labels?

Food labels list ingredients in descending order, based on each ingredient’s predominance in the food. For example, a bottled tea would likely list water as the first ingredient, followed by tea leaves, followed by sugar. 

Are food labels accurate?

For the most part, yes. Although the FDA acknowledges that errors can occur and sometimes, food labels are not completely accurate, you can usually trust food labels to accurately list nutritional information. Beyond relying on food labels, you can maintain good heart health by opting for heart-healthy whole foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. 

At LiveWell with Traditions, we always prioritize good nutrition. For more heart-healthy food and lifestyle tips, read our blog post about heart-healthy food swaps for seniors.


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