The Facts

Reading Nutritional Data

Published on Wednesday, 17 October 2012 18:59

A critical part of making healthy food choices is understanding the nutrition contained in each product.  This guide provides the numerical values for calories, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, sugar and protein for each product; below is an explanation to put those numbers in context.  

Please remember that the  Recommended Daily Intake (RDI) for these nutrients is only a generalized recommendation and should not be substituted for medical advice.  Always consult with your doctor if you have concerns about nutrition, weight loss or other health issues. 

CALORIES
Average Recommended Daily Intake is 2000 calories.

Calories (kcals) are a measurement of the energy you get from the food you eat.  You need calories to function.  Eating more calories than your body expends as energy can lead to weight gain when the unused energy is stored as fat in the body.  Eating fewer calories will lead to weight loss as your body uses stored fat for energy.  It is also important to consider the type of calories you consume: calories from nutrient-dense foods are always preferable to “empty calories” from junk food, which may provide the same energy, but no other benefits and could also be high in fat, sugar or controversial ingredients. 

FAT
Recommended Daily Intake based on a 2000-calorie diet is 65 grams.

Fats are an energy dense (9 kcals/gram) nutrient. They are needed in a healthy diet to help absorb fat soluble vitamins (A,D,E, K), maintain healthy skin and brain functioning. Some types of fat even contribute to heart health and are an essential part of our diet (omega-3’s). There are different types of fats – saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, of which they have many different types of fatty acids which have a different impact on our health. For example, trans-fats have a negative impact on heart health in that they raise LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and lower HDL (“good” cholesterol).

CARBOHYDRATES
Recommended Daily Intake based on a 2000-calorie diet is 300 grams.

Carbohydrates have 4 kcals/gram. There are different functions for carbohydrates in our bodies – for example, fiber helps promote optimum digestive health, while starches are broken down to glucose and used as (the preferred source of) energy by our cells. Carbohydrates are in most of our foods – they make up sugars, starches and fibers, which can be found in fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.

FIBER
Recommended Daily Intake based on a 2000-calorie diet is 25 grams.

Dietary fiber is a non-digestible form of carbohydrates and lignin. It is naturally occurring in plant foods and has beneficial health properties. There are different ways to categorize fiber, such as functional and dietary fiber, or the more popular terms “soluble” and “insoluble.”  Soluble fiber absorbs water.  It can help lower cholesterol, increase insulin sensitivity and delay stomach emptying, which leads to a feeling a fullness.   Insoluble fiber does not absorb water.  It helps prevent constipation, passes through intestines intact, and shortens transit time in gut.

SUGAR 

Sugar is a carbohydrate, thus containing 4 kcals/gram. There are naturally occurring and added sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in fruits and dairy products, while added sugars refer to a sugar (such as a syrup or granulated sugar) which was added during the manufacturing of a food. According to the American Heart Association, added sugars should be limited to 5% of total calories due to their negative health impacts.

PROTEIN
Recommended Daily Intake based on a 2000-calorie diet is 50 grams.

Proteins have 4 kcals/gram. Proteins are required in our bodies as they make up the structure to many important cells – including DNA – and carry out many biological functions, like cell signaling neurotransmitters. There are nine essential amino acids; "essential" means that our bodies cannot produce them and are thus required in the diet. Proteins are found in nearly all foods and those that contain all 9 essential amino acids are referred to as “complete proteins”, while foods which do not are called “incomplete proteins.” Often, animal proteins are complete, however there are vegan sources of complete proteins such as soy, quinoa and chia seeds.