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How to Determine the Nutritional Value of Food

By Ann Bartkowski

Determining the nutritional content of the food you eat will allow you to better understand what comprises these foods. Knowing what food is made of is one of the first important steps in choosing to eat a healthy diet. There are two different ways that you can easily determine the exact nutritional value of your food. You do not need to use fancy equipment or perform your own science experiments to figure it out. Food scientists and nutritionists have been working together for years to measure nutrients, and the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has compiled this information so that you can easily access it. You can read the labels printed on all packaged foods or you can research nutritional values on one or more of several good websites.

Look for a Label

Look for the white rectangular label the USDA requires on every food package you buy. The label is often located on the side or back of the container.

If you find the label, read it. It begins with the words "Nutrition Facts" written at the top in black-colored font. It will tell you the most essential nutritional information about this particular food.

If you want the nutritional information for several packaged foods that you combined, add the numbers in each category from the individual labels together. For example, if you want to determine the nutritional value of a lasagna you made, read the labels for the sauce, pasta and cheese you added, and add those together.

Research Unlabeled Foods

If you cannot find a "Nutrition Facts" label on your food, you will have to work slightly harder to determine its nutritional value. Often, raw and unprocessed foods are sold without labels. For example, apples that you buy or grow are usually not labeled with their nutritional content. Meals from restaurants are also usually unlabeled, but their nutritional values can often be found online.

Connect to the Internet and open the a webpage such as NutritionData.com.

Type in the name of the food you are searching for. For example, type "apple" if you want to know the nutrient content of an apple that you are about to peel and cut up for your child.

From the list of foods, chose the one that most closely describes what you are about to eat or serve and hit "Enter." For example, you would pick "apple - raw, peeled" if you were serving someone one apple prepared this way.

Tips

Check out the website of the restaurant if you are eating out and want to know nutritional facts about their meals. You can also speak with restaurant staff who are generally willing to help you understand what is in their food.

Often, websites such as NutritionData.com measure serving sizes in cups or by weight. Since it can be difficult to correctly gauge a serving size, you may find it is helpful to measure your unlabeled food before you eat it. You can do this by weighing it on a food scale, or by putting it in standard measuring cups.

Warnings

Remember that nutritional value--while important--is not the only factor in determining how healthy what you eat is. Nutritional labels reduce foods to macro- and micro-nutrients, yet other factors--such as overall diet and culture--should also be taken into consideration when judging your meals.

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