Nutrition Facts LabelYour health is your most important asset. Your life, literally, depends upon it: happiness, freedom, fulfillment. Think of your body as a property you have bought into. Why then not protect your body against illness with proper nutrition?

This article, however, is not a discussion on health insurance. There are a panoply of advice websites out there about that particular topic. We are discussing how best to invest in your body to insure you will be able to reap the fruits of personal well-being for many years to come.

As everyone knows, nutrition is a key part of keeping your body healthy: this is where nutrition fact labels come in. They are powerful tools for gauging fat intake, calories, salt, and other ingredients. Since 1994, the FDA has required these labels be added to most food products. This has been done to help combat unhealthy eating habits and the obesity epidemic that threatens to overwhelm the health of the county. Research has shown that consumers who take notice and understand nutrition labels consume less fat than those who do not, and were more likely to eat a diet high in fruit, vegetables, and fiber.

Early last month a new rule created by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service came into effect, requiring nutrition labeling on cuts of raw meat and poultry products, giving consumers more power to choose their dietary intake, and therefore influence their health. When we enter a supermarket, the burden of choice can often be overwhelming. That’s why it’s important to empower yourself with knowledge of how the nutrition labeling system works.

Dietary Guidelines

The labels operate under a set of assumed rules for the intake of nutrients an average person needs to  consume on a daily basis in order to function well (It’s worth mentioning, however, that these rules assume the person in question is a reasonably active male.) The first thing you’ll notice on the label is the serving size (located at the top). This is considered by the manufacturer to be the average amount consumed per person, and the following information concerns the composition of this amount of food or drink. It’s worth recognizing that many pre-made foodstuff packages contain more than one serving (soft drinks and juices are often guilty of this). Even modestly sized bottles or packets can often pack a decent calorific punch.

It’s important to know healthy intakes of fats, protein, calories, and carbohydrates per day. You don’t need to count every single calorie, but knowing average amounts can be helpful in sorting the junk from the healthy, nutritious food. The IOM has a useful table of micro- and macro-nutrients that provide information on average intakes for every stage of life, from infancy through to adulthood, including pregnant and lactating mothers.

Flaws in the labeling system

There’s a few things to watch out for when it comes to nutrition labels. As always, no two people are alike. Differences in muscle and fat distribution mean food will be metabolized at different speeds, as will differences in height and gender. If you are serious about losing weight and/or getting fit, it may be a good idea to seek out a qualified nutritionist or dietician who can give you more concrete information about your recommended dietary intake. They will measure your fat-to-weight-to-height ratio, record your daily diet patterns, and work from there. A one-size-fits-all system is never going to suit everybody, but nutrition information labels are still powerful tools for understanding nutrition, helping to insure your health against illness for years to come.

Another thing to watch out for is misleading claims on the front of  food packages. The FDA is currently cracking down on these claims, often printed in eye-catching, colorful text on the front of packets of food. One look at the cold, hard data available in the nutrition labeling of these foods, however, and you may discover that health-food bar full of ‘natural fiber’ with ‘immune boosting’ ingredients, is little different to a candy bar. Be wary of splashy advertising claims, especially on processed foods.

One final thing to keep in mind is that beer, wine, and spirits are not required by law to publish their nutritional data on the bottle, just their alcohol content. Alcoholic drinks often contain a lot of sugar, carbohydrates, and fat. Calorie King has an excellent selection of nutritional information on most mainstream alcoholic beverages.


Imogen is a foodie, a fitness fanatic and a borderline calorie-counting obsessive. She practices yoga in her spare time, and works as a freelancer writer.