Navigating Nutrition Labels | Veggiecation© a Culinary-Nutrition Education Program About Vegetables
Friday, 30 January 2015 10:05

Navigating Nutrition Labels

Understanding how to read a nutrition label is essential for your health. Getting in the habit of making sure to read the label at the time of purchase is key. Knowing what to look for and what the values mean is fairly simple once you get accustomed to checking. Here’s a quick guide on what to keep an eye out for and how to talk to your kids about being a conscious consumer.


It is important to note that when looking at a nutrition label, the numbers are measured in percentages, grams, and milligrams.

Serving Size – This is the first thing you should notice when reading a nutrition label.

A serving size is the amount of food that equals the following information on the nutrition label.

The serving size will always be followed by “Servings per,” which indicates how many servings in one package, bottle, bag, etc are in the product. For example, a bottle of juice may be 80 calories per serving but there might be 2.5 servings per container. This means that drinking the whole container of juice will equal 200 calories.

Veggiecation Tip: Let this be a math lesson for older kids and have them multiply serving sizes by the list of nutrients to see how many calories, grams of fat, milligrams of sodium, etc are in various foods.

Calories – This tells you how much energy is in the food.

Calories can come from any of the nutrients on the list. For example, if you are eating bread, most of your calories are going to come from carbohydrates.

Calories aren’t bad! You need them to produce energy. However, most people eat more calories than they burn.  That is when weight gain can occur. Staying active and burning those excess calories is critical in order to maintain a healthy weight.

Calories from Fat should only be 30% of your total calorie intake.  Therefore, it’s important to check this ratio as well.

Veggiecation Tip: It’s important to teach kids to take note, but not obsess over calories. Set a limit for different types of eating that they are going to do. Try this:

A drink a juice should equal no more than 150 calories.

A snack should equal no more than 200. 

Find out what works for your kids and don’t forget to factor in the level of activity they participate in.

Fat (g)–Let’s face it, fat gets a lot of bad press. Low-Fat or Fat-Free foods were extremely popular a couple of years ago because it was assumed that fatty foods made you gain weight, but as we just discussed, that is not the only contributing factor.

In fact, fat is one of three necessary macronutrients that your body needs to survive. (see image 1)

However, you should stay away from food that is high in harmful fats like saturated and trans fats.

Look for foods that contain polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, or omega-3 fatty acids.

Veggiecation Tip: Don’t create a fear of fat in your kids.  Introduce them to heart healthy fats such as avocado, pumpkin seeds and olive oil!

Macronutrients full

Cholesterol (mg) – One of two nutrients measured in milligrams. Cholesterol is only found in foods made with animal products. Those who have high cholesterol or those who eat a lot of meat, poultry, and, dairy need to pay attention to this and limit their intake.

The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily cholesterol intake to 300 milligrams per day.

Veggiecation Tip: Acclimate your family to plant-based proteins, such as beans, lentils and tofu. Consider making Mondays “meatless” to benefit both you body and the environment.  Check out our friends at the Meatless Monday Campaign for more information.

Sodium (mg) – The second nutrient measure in milligrams. Sodium balances pH, keeps you hydrated, and helps with muscle contractions.

Most adults should limit daily sodium intake to 2300 mg per day, which is about 1 tsp.

Foods don’t have to taste salty to contain sodium; in fact, cereals and sweets usually contain at least some sodium.

Some frozen meals or prepared foods contain half of your daily intake of sodium or more.

Veggiecation Tip: Avoid processed food and cook simple meals at home together.  Check out our featured recipes for quick simple ideas to cook with your kids. 

Carbohydrates (g) – This is where most of your energy from calories will come from. However, there are different types of carbohydrates and you will want to increase the consumption of some and limit the others.

Carbohydrates are the second of three macronutrients your body needs to survive. (see image 1)

Veggiecation Tip: Experiment with a variety of whole grains, such as whole wheat cous cous, farro, barley and bulgur wheat, to increase your B-vitamin intake for lots of energy!

- Fiber:  A complex carbohydrate. The average adult should eat 21-35 grams of fiber per day.

Veggiecation Tip: Talk to your kids about how fiber can provide you with a happy tummy and helps you digest all the food you eat throughout the day.

- Sugar: A simple carbohydrate.

There are naturally occurring sugars in fruit and added sugars in juices and sweets. You’ll want to limit added sugars as they are processed quickly and will leave you feeling drained.

Veggiecation Tip: Conduct a live demonstration with your children. Show them that 4.3 gram of sugar = 1 tsp. Measure out the total grams of sugar in a juice, soda or a package of cookies to see how much sugar is in some processed foods!

Protein (g) – Protein is needed to build muscle and repair organs.

This is the third of three macronutrients your body needs to survive. (see image 1)

The average adult only needs 45-44 grams of protein per day. Most people don’t have a hard time getting enough protein in their diet.

There is misconception that vegetarians don’t get enough protein when in fact, there are plenty of protein-rich options for non-meat eaters! Protein is found in beans, legumes, and even vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and potatoes.

Veggiecation Tip: Talk to your kids about how protein helps build strong muscles and can help them be better athletes!

Other nutrients to make sure you’re getting enough of are:

Calcium: Strong bones.

Potassium: Healthy blood, healthy heart,

Magnesium: Healthy heart, healthy bones

Iron: Growing tall, high energy

Vitamin A: Healthy cells, prevents pimples,

Vitamin C: Healthy body, fights colds, provides good skin and hair

5% or less is considered a low source of these nutrients

20% or more is considered a high source of these nutrients

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