Have you ever look at the labels on the food you buy? Do you know how to read a nutrition label?
In today’s hurried, harried world of food shopping, many people take the claims on the fronts of food packages -“healthy,” “low carb” or “low fat” – as the final word on nutrition.
But by failing to read the small print, particularly the “Nutrition Facts” panel and the ingredients list, consumers may not be aware of what else they are getting, namely added sugars and trans fats. For example, did you know that a chocolate peanut butter PowerBar Performance Bar has 20 grams of sugar? That’s twice the amount of sugar in a Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut.
Reading labels, particularly if you are following a high protein, low fat, controlled-carbohydrate lifestyle, is one of the best ways to take control of what you buy and eat.
What to look for
Always look at the serving size, for instance, to ensure that the portion will be able to satisfy your appetite. In many cases, it is smaller than you might assume. If you don’t read the label, you may never realize that the smoothie you just drank is actually two servings, not one. Also, look for an adequate amount of fats, fiber and protein, all of which assure satiety.
Knowing what ingredients should not be in products is equally crucial. The front of the package may say “no trans fats,” but the ingredients list might reveal trace amounts of hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. A product that contains less than 1 gram of these oils is not required to include them on the Nutrition Facts panel. The only way you can be sure that a product is free of these unnatural, harmful fats is if there is no mention of them in the detailed ingredients list.
Avoiding added sugars also is important. Natural sugars in milk and fruit are fine, while added processed sugars, such as sucrose (table sugar) or corn syrup, should not be part of any healthy diet. Intake of sugar alcohols, which often are used in low-carb products to replace sugar and add bulk, also should be monitored.
Let’s Simplify This…
To that end, here are some general guidelines to help you translate food labels into a simpler language anyone can understand.
1. The ingredients appearing on the food label, are listed in order of quantity, from most to least. So when reading a food label for cereal for example, you’ll typically see Whole Wheat listed first because the majority of the product will be made with it. Generally, Sugar or High Fructose Corn Syrup will be listed next because most commercial cereals have massive quantities of one or both in them.
When purchasing any food, for your health’s sake, look for sugar to be listed much further down the ingredients list (if at all).
2. You’ll see words on the labels that you will be unable to pronounce, much less define. My personal rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce a food ingredient OR, you don’t know what the food ingredient is, don’t eat it!
Make a point to try to buy your products when you’re able to identify everything on the ingredient list. There are literally thousands of food additives that can cause health-related problems. The book Consumer’s Guide to Food Additives is a great source that defines each individual, and often unpronounceable, ingredient.
3. Food manufacturers can be very tricky and clever. For instance, when you see High Fructose Corn Syrup on a food label, that is just another way of saying SUGAR. That “trick” can be found in beverages, candy, frozen desserts, dairy products, meats, luncheon meats and ketchup, just to name a few.
4. When you’re reading a food label, don’t scan the Nutritional Facts box for calories and fat content and assume those numbers are for the entire item you’re holding. Most of the time, those numbers apply to the serving size — a portion — of that product.
For instance, when looking at a can of soup, you can quickly see that it contains 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. Look closer, and you’ll notice those numbers are based on a serving size of a half-cup. But most soup cans are approximately 1.5 cups, so you would need to multiple the calories and fat content by 3 in order to accurately calculate how much you’ll really be consuming.
If you are serious about trying to zero in on your nutrition and aren’t really reading the labels of the foods you buy, you are going to be spinning your wheels. However, once you get the hang of the things to look for and avoid, it becomes a lot easier to walk up and down the isles of your grocery store and pick out the healthy options and avoid the so-called healthy ones.
I hope that this article has provided you with some insight on how to read a nutrition label. Once you start taking a closer look at what is actually in the food that you are eating, making healthier choices becomes much easier and less stressful.
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