How to Decipher Food Labels
Learning to decipher food labels is important so you can be more aware of what you’re really eating and you can make the most informed decisions.
Unfortunately, the food labeling laws in this country make it difficult to determine if a food is healthy for us or not at first glance.
We have to dig deeper and do a little detective work, but it’s worth the effort.
The front of the package is designed to SELL you the product.
It’s an advertising billboard and can be VERY deceiving.
To know what’s in the food you’re buying, you want to read the ingredient list, NOT the claims on the front of the package.
Words like ‘natural’, ‘whole grains’, ‘fresh’, ‘fat free’ and ‘low fat’, are most often actually what you want to avoid.
Crazy, I know!
Be suspicious and dig deeper for the facts.
Food companies are allowed to promote benefits on the front of the package that are not necessarily true.
For example, a food can contain MSG disguised under other names (there are more than 40!), but the packaging can claim “No MSG.”
Before we put any packaged items in our shopping cart, we need to ask ourselves if it’s real food (example: are there only 1-5 ingredients that you recognize) or is it food-like substance (not real food, but more like a chemistry experiment).
It matters very much what we put into our bodies, especially if optimal health is our goal.
It’s also important to look at the sugar and sodium content.
Fat can be replaced with sugar and the sodium content can be very high in processed foods since salt is used as a way to preserve food and keep it from spoiling.
Learning how to read and understand food labels can help you make healthier choices.
Remember we learned the macronutrient ratios carb, protein, and fats that we are looking for each day that will help you reach your health goals.
Here are some tips for reading food labels.
1 - Start with the serving information at the top of the label.
This will tell you the size of a single serving and the total number of servings per container (package).
The most accurate way to measure out a serving is to use a food scale and weigh out your food to the exact amount of grams.
2 - Next, check total calories per serving.
Pay attention to the calories per serving and how many servings you’re really consuming if you eat the whole package.
If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories and nutrients.
The next section of information on a nutrition label is about the amounts of specific nutrients in the product.
3 - Limit these nutrients.
Limit the amounts of saturated fat and sodium you eat, and avoid trans fat.
Choose foods with less of these nutrients when possible.
Your total daily sodium should be less than 3000mg.
Using an app like Myfitnesspal can help you keep track of your sodium.
Sugar should be limited to about 25 grams for women and 35 grams for men each day.
4 - Get enough of these nutrients.
Make sure you get enough of beneficial nutrients such as: dietary fiber, protein, calcium, iron, vitamins and other nutrients you need every day.
Aim for 30 grams of fiber each day, and about 20-30 grams of protein per meal or 10 grams for snacks.
Try to consume a maximum of 30 grams of carbohydrates per meal or snack.
5 - Quick guide to % Daily Value.
The % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount.
As a guide, if you want to consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV — 5 percent or less.
If you want to consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), seek foods with a higher % DV — 20 percent or more.
Here are more tips for getting as much health information as possible from the Nutrition Facts label:
Remember that the information shown in these panels is based on 2,000 calories a day.
You may need to consume less or more than 2,000 calories depending upon your age, gender, activity level, and whether you’re trying to lose, gain or maintain your weight.
When the Nutrition Facts label says a food contains “0 g” of trans fat, but includes “partially hydrogenated oil” in the ingredient list, it means the food contains trans fat, but less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.
So, if you eat more than one serving, you could quickly reach your daily limit of trans fat
Review the nutrition labels when you go grocery shopping next.
Pro tip. Shop on the outer perimeter of the grocery store, it usually has less food items with nutrition labels aka more whole foods.