It seems like a simple concept, but I really like to emphasize the idea of tracking what I eat. I find that it’s really easy to convince myself that I’ve been ‘good’ with what I’m putting in my body without actually knowing. There are a variety of tools that we can use to put in the different nutrients, calories or fats that we eat to help keep track. But they are all pretty useless if we don’t actually look the labels for the foods we eat to know what we are giving our bodies. You should be able to make good use of all the information on a food label, there is a lot there that can be helpful. But there are few things that I tend to always search for first when I am reading the back panel of something I am going to eat. This isn’t by no means a comprehensive list, but just a few interesting things to look at the next time you are reading through the nutrition facts label of your next snack. 1. Serving Size Context is key for any type of measurement, especially for your nutrition. Not understanding the serving size is kind of similar to comparing times between races of different lengths. The raw facts on the food can be useless without the context of a serving size. The serving size standardizes the measurements of the nutrients to help provide context. The serving size is the first item you see on a nutrition facts label for good reason. I realize this isn’t some sort of groundbreaking revelation, but I think it’s important to highlight the significance of this part of the label. Knowing the serving size allows me to determine portions for what I want to eat. It also helps determine the actual amount of a specific nutrient that I am taking in. Without first reading the serving size, the rest of the label is pretty pointless. 2. Dietary Fiber Although it’s probably not the first thing you look at on a nutrition facts panel, dietary fiber is a pretty important nutrient to look for. Surprisingly, most of us don’t meet the recommended amount of 25-30 grams of daily fiber. In fact, the average intake for dietary fiber is a little more than half of the recommended amount. Because we generally don’t get enough dietary fiber, it’s one of the nutrients that I keep close track of when I look at food labels. I also make sure that I am getting fiber in the foods I eat because it is critical to a healthy digestive system, and helps promote heart health through lower cholesterol levels. 3. Vitamins It should come as no surprise that I think Vitamins are an important part of food labels. I have talked about vitamins on dietary supplement labels before, but they are just as important on food labels as well. There are too many benefits of vitamins to list, and the importance of monitoring your vitamin intake can’t be overstated. I always look at the vitamin section of the food label to make sure that I am able to track my intake along with the supplement I take. Always take notice of the vitamins in the foods you eat, they can help you determine if there are areas of your diet are lacking. If you aren’t getting the vitamins you need in your diet, you can help boost your intake with supplements as well. 4. Minerals (Calcium) This falls in line with Vitamins, but I keep it separate for Calcium alone. Calcium is the most abundant mineral in the body, and plays a crucial role in a variety of functions. Many of the foods we eat today are fortified with some levels of calcium. Calcium consumptions is of particular importance due to the amounts needed, and the benefits it provides us. I always check on the calcium levels in the foods I eat in conjunction with Vitamin D. (Vitamin D helps with the absorption of Calcium, and as a result effects Calcium levels) While other minerals are important, I pay special attention to Calcium. As we all get older, we tend to eat less food, and in turn can have problems with getting enough Calcium. When you read your food labels, be sure to check the calcium levels along with Vitamin D. 5. Protein Proteins are the foundation of the human body, and help us maintain healthy cells. While protein deficiency is generally not a major concern, proteins are a major component of a healthy diet. I like to track my protein intake because of my focus on muscular strength. I am not a power lifter, nor will I be challenging 1980 Arnold Schwarzenegger to a pose off. But as I’m getting older, I’m becoming aware that I need to maintain a moderate level of physical fitness to help me feel up to par. My weekly fitness routines are helped by making sure I eat sufficient amounts of protein. This isn’t something that I overdo, but I think it’s important to make sure that protein is a focus of my diet. Summary You probably notice that I left out calories, fats and carbohydrates. I don’t ignore those parts of the nutrition fact panel, they are important to know. But, I like to focus on the nutrients and substances that I want to give my body. Too often I see people focus only on taking things away from their body. While I agree that the ‘bad’ things we eat should be limited, I also believe that more emphasis should be placed on providing my body with sufficient amounts of the nutrients it needs. The next time you read a nutrition facts label, take a look at the content of the nutrients listed above. Knowing what’s in the food you eat can help you improve your nutrition and overall well-being.