When you’re browsing the grocery store shelves, you may tend to ignore the labels on food packaging.
Most consumers have seen these labels, otherwise known as “nutrition facts,” but not everyone knows how to read nutrition facts and utilize them, which means a fundamental tool for better nutrition is hiding in plain sight. When read properly, nutrition labels can indicate how any given food can influence your nutrition or diet.
Reading nutrition labels can help you take charge of your nutrition, but it takes a little bit of knowledge and practice. We’re here to help you learn how to read nutrition labels to maintain your health.
Key Components of Nutrition Labels
The components of a nutrition facts label stack together like blocks. Understanding how to find and read these components is the key to quickly assessing how food can influence your diet and overall health.
Location: Top of the label under “Nutrition Facts”
Purpose: The serving information indicates the recommended serving size for a given food, and how many of those servings are in the package you’re holding. It’s important to note that the rest of the nutrition label will provide information for one serving and not necessarily for the package. For example, if you eat two servings, the rest of the nutritional information should be multiplied by two.
Location: Directly under serving information
Purpose: The calorie amount indicates how many calories the serving size of a given food carries. Calorie amounts provide crucial information to anyone working toward their optimal weight or maintaining their body mass index. Remember, the origin of calories is just as important as the calorie.
Location: Under calorie information, spanning the majority of the nutrition facts label
Purpose: This section indicates the levels of various nutrients in a given food, as a quantity and as a percentage of recommended daily intake (based on a 2,000 calorie diet). The nutrition facts on a bag of potato chips might show the following:
Sodium 170 mg 7% Daily Value
That means there are 170 milligrams of sodium in a serving of chips, which constitute 7% of the daily recommended intake of this nutrient. In this section of the nutrition label, you can assess the amount of saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol, which health experts recommend you keep as low as possible to maintain a nutritionally balanced diet.
Location: Bottom of nutrition facts
Purpose: The footnote provides dietary advice for all consumers based on a 2,000 and 2,500 calorie diet. The nutrition facts footnote stays the same product to product.
Reading A Nutrition Label for Kidney Health
Savvy consumers can use nutrition labels specifically to maintain their kidney health. Below, we’ll explore some of the key nutrients to scan for when planning a kidney-friendly, low-oxalate diet.
Don’t forget to check the serving information before reading the rest of the nutrition facts label. Remember, all information on the label refers to one serving. You’ll need to multiply the nutrition information by the number of total servings you consume to understand its nutritional impact.
The low-sodium diet serves as a kidney-friendly nutritional plan for many people. Generally speaking, to find food with low levels of sodium, look for products that have a sodium daily value percentage of under 10%. Processed foods often have added sodium, so try to limit these types of items on your grocery list.
Achieving balanced calcium levels is another important step to maintain kidney health. As with any nutrient or food, there is no one-size-fits-all rule for calcium intake; you can instead strive for consistency and moderation in your personal diet. So when reading nutrition labels for calcium, consider the daily values in terms of your overall diet.
Many individuals working toward optimal kidney health may have been advised to monitor protein intake in their diets. Meat and beans are packed with protein, but these aren’t the only foods where the nutrient is found. Using nutrition labels to identify and keep track of protein levels can help these individuals maintain balanced diets.
Potassium and Phosphorus
Potassium and phosphorus each play significant roles in proper kidney function. Generally speaking, a food is considered low in potassium if it has less than 3% daily value and low in phosphorus if it has less than 5% daily value. However, these nutrients don’t always show up on nutrition labels as they are not required. In this case, turn to the ingredient list on food packaging to see if phosphorus and/or potassium are present. Look for the ingredients that include “potassium,” “phosphorus” or “phosphate.”
For those who are following the kidney-friendly low-oxalate diet, the ingredient list can also help identify oxalate-packed components like nuts, miso, chocolate or soy flour.
We believe that information and education can empower anyone to achieve the lifestyle they strive for. Learning how to use nutrition labels is just one of many ways that you can create good habits in maintaining kidney health and overall nutrition.