New to reading nutrition labels? Want some practice and pointers? Don’t know what to look for? In this series, we will be giving a full breakdown of how to analyze a food’s nutrition label. Today? Raisins.
1. What Am I Eating?
The first step when reading a label is always to use your brain. Before doing any reading, it’s best to make a quick educated guess or a rough estimate of what you may find on the label.
Examples: Is it really savory? Might be high in salt. Is it sweet? You can bet on sugar. Is it a meat? Look for protein.
Making predictions like these will very quickly improve your reading skills, so you can reach a point down the road where you can estimate what’s in your food to a high degree of precision.
In this case, you are eating raisins. Raisins are dried grapes. Grapes are fruit, and fruit is sugar (carbohydrates).
2. Check for Claims
Is there anything on the box, container, or bottle meant to entice or warn consumers? Examples: “Low A unit commonly used to measure the amount of energy that is... More!” “High in fat” “A good source of vitamin C” and “No Salt Added”
Based on these, even before reading, you can observe how it compares to other products or even other brands of the same food.
3. Read the Ingredient List
Now it’s time to look at the back of the package. Make sure there is nothing added to your raisins that you disapprove of. The only ingredient: raisins. No added salt, sugars, or preservatives.
4. Read the Label
Steps one and two combined should have taken 10 seconds at most. Step 3, depending on the food, could talk anywhere from a second to 30 seconds.
Going top to bottom, or left to right, based on the label format, you will find serving, calorie, nutrient, and ingredient information. Don’t hang onto the DRV too much, but be sure to look at the micronutrient, or vitamin / mineral, percentages.
For this example, it’s pretty simple. Depending on your preexisting knowledge of fruit, you may have already known that you won’t be finding much protein or fat department.
See also: What’s on the Nutrition Label?
- The first thing you will encounter is serving size: “1/4 cup (40g) / Servings Per Container About 14”
That means this label is telling you the nutrient profile and calories of 40 grams of raisins, which is roughly 1/4 cup, or a small handful. Another helpful estimation tool is that you now know the entire container is about 3 1/2 cups. So if you think you eat 1/4 cup of raisins a day, but buy a new one of these every week, you are underestimating how big a handful is.
- Next: “Calories 120 / Calories from Fat 0”
Firstly, the calories from fat is not very useful. You can ignore it, and, as a matter of fact, it won’t even be found on labels in a couple of years’ time. This is discussed more here. The calories are what matters. If you have already used one of many very simple online calorie / macronutrient calculators, this number will mean something to you. If you don’t know your daily calorie needs, I highly suggest finding out. It’s very easy and helpful. Otherwise, you don’t really have a clue as too what is too many or too few calories.
See also: Get to Know Your Nutrients
- “Total Fat 0g / Saturated Fat 0g / Trans Fat 0g”
Easy enough. Your raisins, like all other raisins, are fat-free.
- “Cholesterol 0mg / Sodium 0mg / Potassium 300mg”
Your raisins have no cholesterol. Not a real shocker, considering they are fat-free. Your raisins are also sodium-free, which is nice if you are looking to avoid sodium in your diet. This company also opted to include the potassium levels. It has a good bit of potassium since it is, again, a fruit.
- “Total Carbohydrate 32g / Dietary Fiber 2g / Sugars 24g”
This is where the calories come from. By process of elimination, if something has calories, but hardly any protein or fat, it is mostly carbs. Manufacturers break carbs up into 2 simple categories: fiber and sugar. If you thought to yourself, “But wait! 2 + 24 doesn’t equal 32!” congratulations. You are becoming a nutrition label expert. The last 6 grams are starch, which is not displayed on the label.
So most of the carbs are sugar, but don’t let that deter you from eating any. Keep in mind you are eating a very healthy source of fruit-based sugar, and not some junk-food added sugar. Second, this food has a bit a fiber, which is pretty cool. A person should shoot for a grams of fiber intake in the mid 20s per day.
See also: How are Nutrients and Calories Rounded?
- “Protein 1g / Vitamin A 0% / Vitamin C 2% / Calcium 2% / Iron 4%”
One serving of this food is low in protein and does not contain a noticeable amount of Vitamin A. However, it contains 2% of your daily Vitamin C and Calcium, and 4% of your Iron needs.
5. The Verdict?
Raisins are a nutritious snack, but they are almost completely sugar. They are a smart choice time to time, but don’t go overboard.
That’s all! You have successfully analysed a box of raisins. Remember that as you get more and more proficient in label-reading, you can reduce the total time from 90 seconds to 1 or 2. All it takes is practice.
Thanks for reading!
The MacroNutrient Calculator, http://macronutrientcalculator.com/. Accessed 22 October 2016.