Stark little label full of helpful nutritional information

It's the ubiquituous black and white generic panel that is part of almost every package that contains food - usually the back part.

It's the "Nutrition Facts" panel.

Nutrition information about that particularly package of food is printed in the "Nutrition Facts" panel, usually found on the side or back of the package. The top section of this label contains product-specific information. This includes serving size, calories, and nutrient information, which varies with each food product.

The Nutrition Facts panel can be important reading for people with special diets or those just wanting to shed some extra weight through better eating.

Information on the Nutrition Facts panel can help:

• improve health;
• manage weight, diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular disease;
• reduce a person's risk for other chronic diseases;
• avoid products that trigger reactions in people with certain food sensitivities or allergies;
• can help a person follow a therapeutic diet from a physician, nutritionist or registered dietitian.

Here are some terms used on the Nutrition Facts panel:

Serving Size: This uniform measurement is the amount of a particular food or beverage that is considered one serving. Serving sizes are generally consistent for similar types of foods, with the exception of cereal.

Because the "serving size" is a uniform unit, it makes it easy to compare the nutrients and calories (food energy) available in similar foods. Uniformity in size means that the serving size must be about the same for the same types of products, such as different brands of frozen yogurt.

In addition, the serving size must be uniform for similar products within a food category. An example is ice cream, ice milk, and sherbet within the category of frozen dairy-type desserts.

Serving size reflects the amounts that most people actually eat in general rather than the portion one usually eats or the recommended amount. Dieters should pay close attention to this information and compare this to how much they individually, actually eat. There may be several servings in a container.

The serving size is expressed in familiar kitchen measures (e.g., cup, tablespoon, teaspoon, piece, slice) as well as metric amounts such as grams (g) and milliliters (mL). Ounces (oz.) may be used only if a common household unit does not apply and an appropriate visual unit must be given (1 oz. equals 28g or about half a pickle).

Servings Per Container: This is the total number of servings in the product. Remember the nutrient information is based on a serving size, or the amount in one serving, not necessarily on all the food in the package.

Serving size identified on the package determines all the nutrient amounts listed on the label. Note that serving size on the Nutrition Facts label may be different from the serving size recommended in MyPyramid, the U.S. Department of Agriculture food guide.

Calories: This is a measure of how much energy is in a serving of food. On the food label, calories are listed below serving size and servings per container.

A dieter can manage weight by knowing how many calories per serving are available in a product, then increasing or decreasing the total number of calories.

Eating too many total calories per day is linked to obesity and overweight. It doesn't matter whether the calories are from fat, protein or carbohydrates.

Calories from Fat: The Nutrition Facts label also lists how many of the calories in one serving of a product come from fat. Remember that eating two servings of a food means one has consumed twice as many calories from fat.

Do not confuse calories from fat with the dietary advice that applies to overall food choices. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that fat be only 20 to 35 percent of total calories, which depends on age. Using this guideline, it means there is 65 grams of fat for a 2,000-calorie intake level used in the Daily Value.

Sodium: A person should consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day, which is approximately one teaspoon of salt. People with chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and kidney disease should consume even less. The minimum sodium required is 250-500 mg per day.

Foods high in sodium do not always taste salty. Look for these salt or sodium-containing compounds on the list of ingredients: Na (symbol for sodium); monosodium glutamate (MSG); baking soda; baking powder; disodium phosphate; sodium alginate; sodium nitrate.

Potassium: At the top of the Nutrition Facts label, potassium may be listed below sodium. Its percentage Daily Value is based on a recommended intake of 3,500 mg daily. Too much potassium can be harmful to people with kidney problems, because they are unable to get rid of the excess.

Total Carbohydrate: Nutrition experts recommend that 45-65 percent of total daily calories come from carbohydrates. This part of the label lists the values for all carbohydrates, including dietary fiber and sugars. It is voluntary to list the number of grams of sugar alcohols (polyols) per serving.

Dietary fiber helps fight some diseases and promotes bowel regularity. Recommended intake is 14 grams per 1,000 calories consumed. Dialysis patients should eat 20 to 25 grams (G) daily to prevent constipation.

Sugars include both natural sugars and added ones, so check the ingredients list to identify the sugars in the product. The label can claim "no sugar added," yet a beverage or food can contain naturally occurring sugar, like fructose in fruits or lactose in milk.

Names for added sugars include: table sugar (sucrose), corn syrup, maple syrup, fruit juice concentrate, honey maltose and dextrose.

Protein: This is a nutrient that most Americans get more than they need. Protein is restricted in the diets of people with kidney and liver disorders.

Other vitamins and minerals: Along with the required listing of vitamins A and C, iron and calcium on the Nutrition Facts label, other vitamins and minerals may be included. Amounts are only presented as percentages of the Daily Value.

(Staff from the Barnwell County Office of the Clemson University Extension Service periodically submit how-to and helpful articles to The People-Sentinel.)