Nutrition Labels, Explained | Part 2 | Nutrient Breakdown

Tuesday, April 14 2020 11:30 AM
By Ellen Healy

Picture this: you’re on a cheesy game show just steps away from winning an enormous amount of money. The final question posed to you: “What do all the food items in the inner aisles of a grocery store have in common that raw fruits and vegetables don’t?” Did you answer, “They all have their nutrition facts listed on them”?

If so, then… DING, DING, DING! We have a winner.

Nutrition Labels, Part 2

The iconic chart on all processed food items holds a wealth of information about the nutritional value behind what you’re consuming. Whether you’re looking for the serving size for meal planning, calorie counts for weight management, or macronutrient breakdowns for post-workout recovery benefits, the nutrition label is an important tool that can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle. There’s only one problem. These charts are often confusing to the average American, making it more difficult to stay on the path to health and wellness.

Anatomy of nutrition facts


Serving Size

The appearance of every nutrition label is the same thanks to the handy standardization of the NLEA. At the top, you’ll find recommended serving size (based on nutritional recommendations, not how many Oreos you plan to eat). Keep in mind that everything else on the label will give you metrics based on that serving size. So, if you eat more or less than the serving size, the nutrient totals will change.


Below serving size, you’ll find the number of calories in that portion. Calories are a unit of heat energy that our body processes as fuel. The more active you are, the more calories you generally need to fuel those activities. Post-workout treats aren’t just satisfying emotionally – they are important from an energy perspective too! Find some awesome post-workout snacks that Genesis Health Clubs experts recommend.


Fat metrics are listed next. Total fat, listed in grams, tabulates the amount of dietary fat in the food or beverage. While saturated and trans fat totals are listed below total fat, those aren’t the only types of dietary fat you’re consuming (just the only potentially harmful ones). Total fat includes healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, and omega-3 fatty acids (those things that you hear doctors rave about). For best practices on keeping saturated fat low and trans fat non-existent, see here.


Cholesterol follows fat on the label. Dietary cholesterol is different than blood cholesterol and many nutrition scientists argue that it doesn’t need to be on the nutrition label anymore. There isn’t a risk for overconsumption of dietary cholesterol, so don’t spend time worrying about this line item on the chart.


Good ol’ NaCl – or sodium  – is next on the list. Salt is often added to processed food to help extend the shelf life of an item, so the bag of Lay’s you’re munching on at the office is going to report much higher sodium than a cup of yogurt or fruit. The USDA dietary guidelines recommend keeping total sodium consumption at or below 2,300 mg/day.

Carbohydrates, Fiber, and Sugar

We can’t think about carbs without thinking about how much Oprah loves bread, but there’s a lot more to carbohydrates than baked goods.  Carbohydrates are broken down into sugars, sugar alcohols, starches, and dietary fiber. Don’t let sugars get a bad rep, though. The nutrition label currently doesn’t differentiate between naturally occurring sugars, like those found in fruit or milk, and added sugars. Dietary fiber is also technically sugar. Fiber is made up of sugar molecules linked together - just in a way that they cannot be readily digested.


Next on the label is a bodybuilder's favorite macronutrient: protein. Protein helps your body build and repair cells and body tissue, making it an important component of post-workout snacks or meals. Protein is also a major part of your skin, hair, nails, muscle, bone, and internal organs… so basically, you need protein to function and be healthy daily. Vitamins and Minerals

Vitamins and Minerals

Near the bottom of the chart you’ll see vitamins and minerals, but only as percent daily value based on a 2,000-calories-a-day diet. In general, anything above 20% is “high” for that vitamin. Anything under 5% is “low” in that vitamin. Break out the mental calculator and try to make sure you reach 100% in these vitamins and minerals by the end of the day.


You now have the basic breakdown of the Nutrition Label. Knowing about nutrients and how important they are for your diet, can help you reach your fitness goals! We've now covered the history and the nutrients listed on the label... Tomorrow, we'll talk about whether or not you can trust them!


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