Making Nutrition Easier – the 5/20 Rule

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Healthy eating. For all the fad diets out there, if you ask most medical professionals, they say the best choice is eating as healthfully as you can. That means emphasizing unprocessed food with plenty of fruits and veggies. But in the real world, we don’t always have time or money to get the healthiest choice possible. I know I struggle to make sure every food choice I make is nutritious, so I always read food nutrition labels. Honestly, half the time, I don’t know how to interpret what I’m reading. But I recently learned about the “5/20” rule. It makes reading labels SO much more simple, and it is going to be a game-changer for anyone trying to eat healthy. Here is how you can make nutrition easier with the 5/20 rule.

What the rule says

When you read a nutrition label, there are percentages on there for certain nutrients. Some of them are nutrients you may want to eat more of, while others are ones you may want to avoid. If a food has 5% of a certain nutrient, it is not a good source of that nutrient. If it has 20%, it is a great source of that nutrient.

For nutrients you want to eat more of, like vitamins or fiber, a food with at least 20% of that nutrient is a good thing. If there is only 5% of the good nutrient in that food, you could still eat it (depending on your personal nutrition requirements), but that food won’t be a good source of that nutrient. When considering nutrients you want to reduce, like sodium or trans fats, 5% of that nutrient means it doesn’t have too much, but 20% means you may not want to eat it. Need a visual? Here is a video by the FDA (Warning: it’s super cheesy. To avoid most of the cheese, start it at the 1:28 mark.)

A few other points

Every person has different nutritional needs. One “good” nutrient for one person may be a “bad” nutrient for another. Take me for example – because of my medication that I take for hypothyroidism, my doctor recommends that I avoid having too much calcium first thing in the morning. For me, having too much calcium around the same time that I take my medication means I won’t absorb as much of my medicine. So, I would want to avoid eating foods that have 20% or higher of the recommended daily allowance of calcium first thing in the morning.

Another consideration is serving sizes. A lot of snack foods do this sneaky thing where they list calories and nutrients per serving size, but then say that there are two or more servings in the bag or box. If you eat the whole thing, you’ll have to do some math to figure out exactly what you’re getting. For example, let’s say one bag of chips has 10% of your recommended daily allowance of sodium. That doesn’t sound too bad. But when you read the label, it says the bag contains three servings! That bumps your sodium consumption up to 30% if you eat the whole thing, which is higher than this rule advises.

You can make healthy choices

I really like the 5/20 rule because it takes a lot of the guesswork out of interpreting food nutrition labels. Many of us want to eat healthier but don’t always know where to start. You can make nutrition easier with the 5/20 rule. Just be sure to watch out for those chips! 

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