There’s more to reading a label than just focusing on the calories. To make the best educated decision on whether or not it’s a smart decision to buy a packaged food, there are some key things you should know.
Reading a label can get confusing. What should you be looking for and what do the numbers even mean? Below I’ve outlined five things to know when reading a nutrition label.
Pay attention to the serving size. That drink may appear to be a single serving, but you better look at the serving size to be sure. This is especially important when taking into account the overall nutrients that make up the caloric density of the food. For example, if a serving size is actually two and you consume the whole food, guess what? You’ve got to double all of the numbers on the label, too.
Sodium. Chances are, if the food has been highly processed, you need to pay attention to the amount of sodium on the label. When ingredients have been stripped of their natural flavors to create a processed byproduct, manufacturers often use sodium to add flavor back into the food. Sodium is also used as a preservative in sweet foods. The American Heart Association recommends an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg of sodium per day for adults.
What does fiber have to do with anything? A lot! Dietary fiber is a form of carbohydrates that are not absorbed by the body. Fiber helps slow down digestion of food, balance blood sugar levels and promotes a healthy gut. When looking at a label, you can find your net carbohydrates by subtracting the amount of fiber from the total carbohydrates. The goal here is to opt for foods that are full of dietary fiber, which will naturally come in the form of less processed, whole foods versus highly processed foods. Think quinoa versus Little Debbie Swiss Rolls.
Total sugar versus added sugars. If you’ve taken a look at nutrition labels lately, you’ve probably noticed something a little different. Updated labels now list added sugars in addition to total sugars. Added sugars can be attributed to both highly processed and natural sources, such as cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, maple syrup and honey. Your best bet is to stick to foods that contain naturally occurring sugars and limit the amount of added sugars in your day.
Focus on the ingredients. While the nutrition label is important to look at to be aware of the nutrient breakdown, the ingredients that these nutrients are sourced from is just as, if not more important. Pay attention to the ingredient list and make it a priority for your foods to pass a test. Can you recognize and pronounce the ingredients? Could you technically make this food at home? If yes, then it gets the green light to go into your cart!
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