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Nutrient Content and Percent Daily Value Misconceptions

The nutrient content in foods listed on food labels can be confusing—and sometimes even misleading. The nutrient analysis on food labels includes the calorie count, as well as the fat content. But there are big differences between saturated fats and unsaturated fats. And some claims that are made, such as "low-fat" or "reduced sodium" are not as beneficial as they might seem.

The Percent Daily Value on labels shows how much of each nutrient one serving of each food contains, compared as a percentage to recommendations for nutrients your body needs for the entire day. The Percent Daily Value is based on diet of 2000 calories per day. If your body requires more or fewer than 2000 calories per day, then your recommended daily values would need to be adjusted.

Your health care provider, nutritionist or dietician could help determine how many calories your body needs each day to reach or maintain a healthy body weight. The Percent Daily Value is also a useful tool to use to determine if foods are high or low in a certain nutrients.

Following are some common misconceptions about the nutrient content in food.

Low-Fat Does Not Mean Low-Calorie

Many foods that are advertised as “low-fat” are still high in carbohydrates sugar, and calories. Always read the calorie counts on labels of foods that are described as “low-fat” if you are looking for foods that are also low in calories.

Reduced Sodium Does Not Necessarily Mean Low in Sodium

To include “reduced sodium” on labels, foods only need to have 25 percent less sodium than the standard version of the same foods. Some foods described as “reduced sodium” still have high quantities of sodium per serving.

Low Calorie Foods Still Contain Calories

To be described as “low calorie,” foods can contain up to 40 calories per serving.

Reduced Fat Does Not Necessarily Mean Low in Fat

To include “reduced fat” on labels, foods only need to have 25 percent less fat than the standard version of the same foods. Some foods described as “reduced fat” still have high quantities of fat per serving.

Reduced Cholesterol Does Not Necessarily Mean Low in Cholesterol

To include “reduced cholesterol” on labels, foods only need to have 25 percent less cholesterol than the standard version of the same foods. Some foods described as “reduced cholesterol” still have high quantities of cholesterol per serving.

Reduced Sugar Does Not Necessarily Mean Low in Sugar

To include “reduced sugar” on labels, foods only need to have 25 percent less sugar than the standard version of the same foods. Some foods described as “reduced sugar” still have high quantities of sugar per serving.

Studying food labels might add to your shopping time, but will be beneficial to your health. Once you learn which foods to purchase based on their nutrient content, keep a list for future shopping trips.

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