Guide to Nutrition Facts Label Part 2 — Sodium, Carbohydrates, and Protein
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Last week, I left off with telling you about cholesterol, which is followed by the very important mineral: sodium. Sodium is a key mineral in nutrition as it affects many body functions such as blood pressure, water concentration and heart rate.
Because of how large of a role it plays in diet and health it and along with cholesterol are the only two non-macronutrients that are displayed on the nutrient facts label.
In general you should be consuming less than 2400mg a day of sodium (salt). For those on low sodium diets this amount should be less than 1200mg (people with high blood pressure for instance). It’s very easy to over consume in sodium, especially if you like to eat fast food/pre –packaged food; a Subway 6 inch of Italian BMT has 1300 mg of sodium in it alone, which is a whopping 54% of daily sodium intake!
Carbohydrates are the next macronutrient on the nutrient facts label and they are further divided into dietary fiber and sugars—one gram of carbohydrates is 4 calories.
In general you should be consuming 45%-65% of your daily calories just from carbohydrates (900-1300 calories)! This might sound like a lot, but carbohydrates not only make up bread and grains, but also fruits and vegetables as well.
You might be thinking what about no-carb/low-carb diets? While they can help you lose weight, whether they’re sustainable in the long term or healthy for you is an entirely different and lengthy subject matter!
The facts are that you should be consuming a substantial portion of your diet from carbohydrates. The two subsections of carbohydrates are dietary fiber and sugar. In short, dietary fiber helps with digestion and can help you feel full/satiated. Aim to consume 25g of fiber per day, which can be accomplished by increasing fruit/vegetable intake as well as eating more whole grains.
Sugar exists on the nutrient fact label for those who are worried about their sugar intake such as diabetics, so I won’t discuss it here.
The last macronutrient on the nutrient facts label is protein. Protein is an important nutrient for muscles as well as enzyme activity. You should be consuming 10-35% of your daily calories from protein (200-700 calories): one gram of protein is 4 calories.
Protein has become popular in sports drinks/sports supplements because of how it effects muscle building, however if you’re not into professional athletics and simply want to get in better shape you don’t need any extra protein in your diet. In other words if you’re following a balanced diet there’s no need to spend extra money on supplements! Even vegetarians can meet their protein needs with only a little more planning than those who consume meats.
As you can see, there’s a lot of information on the nutrient fact label! To sum it up for you I’ve compiled a list of tips to help you understand the foods you eat better.
I’ll leave you with one last tip: if you see any nutrient on the nutrient facts label that is 20% or more, it’s generally considered to be a lot. This can be both a good and a bad thing—while getting 20% of your fiber intake is good, eating 20% of your fat intake in just one chocolate bar isn’t!
- Try to keep track of how much you’re eating in relation to the serving size. This doesn’t mean count the number of potato chips you eat, but rather whether you’ve eaten 1/4th of the bag, ½, etc.
- Unless you’re on a specially modified diet for medical reasons (acute renal failure for instance) there’s no need to cut any one macronutrient out of your diet! In other words, don’t trust those no-carb, no-fat, no-protein diet, our body needs all of the macronutrients to stay healthy.
- 20-35% of your daily calories should come from fat, which is 400-700 calories on a 2000 calorie diet.
- Limit your intake of trans fat as much as possible, and consume less than 20g of saturated fat per day.
- Consume less than 300mg of cholesterol per day—try consuming more fruits and vegetables in replacement of animal products if you have trouble eating less than 300mg per day.
- Consume less than 2400 mg of sodium (salt) per day. If this is difficult, try eating less fast food and less frozen/pre-packaged foods.
- 45-65% of your daily calories should come from carbohydrates (900-1300 calories). Try to consume at least 25g of fiber per day.
- Unless you’re a professional athlete there’s little need to supplement with protein shakes, bars, etc. As long as you consume a well-rounded diet you should easily meet your protein needs.
- One gram of protein is 4 calories, one gram of carbohydrate is 4 calories, one gram of fat is 9 calories, and one gram of alcohol is 7 calories.
- Any nutrient which is listed as 20% or more per serving can be considered a large amount.