March is National Nutrition Month! It’s also the start of a major change with packages of ground or chopped meat and poultry, such as hamburger or ground turkey. Ta da! Their labels now contain Nutrition Facts panels, as do 40 of the most popular whole, raw cuts of meat and poultry, such as chicken breast or steak.
That means that now, instead of trying to figure out what “85% lean” means or which meat products best fit into your diet or lifestyle, the label will list the number of calories and grams of total fat and saturated fat the product contains, just like all other packaged foods and beverages in the supermarket. You’ll be able to compare the calorie and fat content of ground beef vs. ground turkey or pork chops vs. chicken right in the store as well as cholesterol, sodium, total carbohydrates, protein and iron per standard 4-ounce serving.
In general, serving size is always the first item on the Nutrition Facts label. All other nutrition information is based on that serving size. The servings per container, which are “varied” on packages of meat, but definitive on the labels of other products, tell you know how many portions are in the whole package, box, or can.
When comparing products that aren’t meat, make sure they have the same serving size for an accurate comparison. A package will often have more than one serving in it. If you choose to eat more than the serving size listed, you’ll be taking in more calories, carbohydrate, and other nutrients. Multiply all of the data by the servings per container to get the total amounts for the container.
Besides tracking fat and calories, the Nutrition Facts Label is also your tool to track nutrients. The Percent Daily Value (%DV) helps you decide if a food is high or low in a nutrient. Each listed nutrient is based on a daily 2,000-calorie diet. In general, 5% DV or less of a particular nutrient means the food is low in that nutrient and 20% DV or more means it’s high.
Labels can be tremendously helpful when trying to improve your diet because you’ve got the data right there, as in 450 calories per serving? No thanks! But keep in mind that some of the healthiest products in the supermarket still don’t have Nutrition Facts Labels—fresh fruits and vegetables.