Adding Up A Balanced Diet

Armen Hareyan's picture
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It's important to choose foods wisely in order to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But how? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers help. And it's right on the packages!

Checking the Nutrition Facts Label on products has, for many, become a regular part of shopping. If you want to make your calories count, "calories" may be the first thing you look for. Calories per serving is easy to understand. The more calories you eat, the more calories you need to burn off to maintain your weight. But what are those numbers on the right - the % Daily Value (DV)? The DVs are reference values used to assist consumers in understanding how nutrients fit into the context of the total daily diet. The %DV is also an easy way to tell whether a food is high or low in certain nutrients.

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Nutrients include vitamins A and C, calcium, fiber, and iron. But, fat, cholesterol and sodium are also nutrients. Getting enough of many nutrients may improve your health, but eating too much of a nutrient such as fat or cholesterol may increase your risk of certain diseases. So which foods are high or low in which nutrients per labeled serving? That's where the %DV comes in. The Quick Guide: 5% DV or less is "low" -- 20% DV or more is "high." So how does it help you make healthy choices?

1. To compare one food or brand to another. If your physician says increase your calcium intake, you'll know a product is high in calcium if the %DV is 20% or more. If you're watching your blood cholesterol level, choose foods with a low %DV for saturated fat and cholesterol. Also check for the lowest amount of transfat.

2. To evaluate claims of "light," "reduced fat" or "nonfat." Find the %DV for total fat in the product. Use the Quick Guide to test the claim.

3. To make dietary "trade-offs." If a food you really like to eat for dinner is high in fat, do. Just make sure to balance it with foods lower in fat at other times during the day.

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