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Lesson 12: Reading Nutrition Labels
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For more information about the understandings, essential questions, and alignment of this lesson to National Health Education Standards, State Standards, please visit our website, www.roadoflife.org
•Box of crackers*
•loaf of bread (sliced)*
•nutrition labels from each product
Note: Make sure that the crackers and bread have nutrients listed, as some bread and crackers appear healthy but are not. Our suggestions: whole wheat or seven grain bread and multi-grain crackers.
Ask the students whether bread or crackers have more nutrients. Explain that they cannot correctly answer the question without knowing how much bread is being compared to how many crackers. Display the entire loaf of bread and one cracker. Ask the question again, which has more nutrients?
-Since there is so much bread compared to the one cracker, the loaf of bread as a whole is going to have more nutrients. The same would be true for the entire box of crackers compared to a slice of bread.
Ask students how many crackers they think are in the box. Let them make guesses. There are two ways to know how many crackers the box contains:
Estimating is usually much quicker and more efficient than counting the number of crackers in the box. To estimate the number of crackers in the box, students should look at the serving size listed on the nutrition label. In this case, a serving size is a given number of crackers. Let’s say a serving size is 12 crackers. Under the serving size, the number of servings is usually listed. Let’s say in this case there are about 4 servings in the box. You would need to multiply the number of crackers per serving by the number of servings per box.
12 crackers x about 4 servings = about 48 crackers per box
If the serving size is given in an exact amount, then you have an exact total. If it gives an uncertain amount (usually denoted with the word “about”) then you have an estimate.
It may be beneficial for the students to do another example using the loaf of bread. If a serving of bread is 1 slice and the number of servings per loaf is exactly 16 slices, it would be calculated as follows:
1 slice x 16 servings = exactly 16 servings
The nutrition label, by law, must be on every package of food. The nutrition label tells us which nutrients are in a particular food and how many nutrients are in it. The food label also tells us how much of that food or drink is in the package.
What is a nutrient? Remind students that a nutrient is a part of food that gives the body energy, keeps it healthy and helps it perform important functions. Students can find out how many nutrients are in a product by looking under the nutrient bar. The nutrient bar is the dark horizontal line found near the bottom of nutrition labels under which you are able to see many nutrients listed with percentages next to them.
Students may be wondering what exactly a serving size is. The serving size is listed on the nutrition label and it is how much of that food you should consume at one time. A serving size is not always the whole package of food (as we saw with the crackers and the bread). Therefore, the amount of nutrients written on the nutrition label pertains to one serving size, which may not be the whole package.
Eating more than one serving at a time: If a person eats two serving sizes at once, such as two pieces of bread for a sandwich, then all the information on the label must be multiplied by 2. If you eat three servings, it should be multiplied by 3, and so on. If you only eat half of a serving, you divide the information by two.
Who decides what a serving size is? Who says that 12 crackers or 1 slice of bread is what should be consumed at one time? The company that makes the packaged food decides what the serving size for the product is. Then, they base the rest of the nutrition label on the serving size.
-The exception to this rule is fruits and vegetables. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) determines the serving sizes for fruits and vegetables. In this case, 1 serving = 1 cup. This follows their guidelines for the amount of servings of fruits and vegetables needed per day. The recommendation is 5 to 9 a day. Since fruits and vegetables are rarely packaged, it can be difficult to determine their serving sizes. Explain that one cup of a fruit or vegetable cut up is approximately the size of a baseball. (Note: This issue is addressed more thoroughly in the 5 to 9 a day lesson)
Serving Size Tip: A good way to make sure that you do not eat too many servings of foods without many nutrients is to divide the packages into smaller baggies of one serving each. Then, when they eat a snack that does not have a lot of nutrients, they are eating just one serving instead of many servings- or the whole package- without thinking about it.
Learning Activity: Reading Nutrition Labels
*If this activity is assigned as homework, students may be asked to compare two foods by using labels from home.
4. Use the example provided to demonstrate what the students are supposed to do.