When deciding what to eat, we want the most filling and flavorful foods. Given that students are pressed for time and money, it becomes more difficult to meet nutritional and caloric needs.

This is where nutrition labels come in. The average male needs 2,500 calories per day, with one calorie representing the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of one kilogram of water by 1°C .

Take a pint of vanilla Häagen-Dazs ice cream. It contains four servings (yes that little container has four servings) each valued at 270 Calories. Give a stressed student a pint and those 1,080 Calories are barely enough to satisfy all-nighter cravings.

Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Professor John Lew said that consumers should take a closer look at nutritional facts and be conscientious of serving sizes.

“In general we want to eat foods that are from a plant source high in nutrient density, low in calories and low in saturated fat. Vegetables and fruits [are] low in caloric content but high in vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients,” Lew said.

According to both Lew and the FDA’s Labeling and Nutrition website, saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol — all of which can contribute to high blood pressure and certain cancers — should be minimally consumed. Trans fatty acids can be particularly harmful in causing cardiovascular disease.

Carbohydrates serve as the main source of energy in food. However, in just one small serving of vanilla Häagen-Dazs ice cream there are 21 grams of carbohydrates, about 16 percent of the recommended daily allowance for men and women. Any excess amount beyond the recommended daily allowance gets stored as fat.

Proteins are composed of amino acids necessary for the synthesis of new proteins that carry out innumerable processes including catalysis, replication and transportation. In contrast to nonessential amino acids, essential amino acids must be obtained through diet.

“Proteins are not used for energy; it is carbohydrates and then fats for endurance. We only rely on protein for energy under starving conditions,” Lew said. “The word ‘complete protein’ describes proteins that have an amino acid composition in a particular food that matches the amino acid composition of [humans].”

A serving of Häagen-Dazs ice cream contains the daily values of 15 percent for vitamin A, 0 percent for vitamin C and 15 percent for calcium. To obtain your recommended daily value of vitamin A and calcium from a pint of ice cream, you would have to eat ten servings, or 2,700 calories’ worth.

Lew advises eating foods high in nutrients and low in calories and fat. He avoids regularly eating foods that contain greater than 10% fat per gram (look at the grams of fat in a serving and divide that by the total grams per serving).

“In the Western world our problem is not getting calories, our problem is getting nutrients,” Lew said. “It is a marketing thing. It is fair, but that is why I think it is so important to read and understand these labels.”


A version of this story appeared on page 6 of Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.