Many people are confused by how to read nutrition labels we see on packaged foods in the supermarket.
Before we talk about some simple tips for reading those labels, it’s important to remember that some of the healthiest foods in the store, like fresh fruits and vegetables, or a filet of fish don’t need nutrition labels to tell you they’re nutritious.
So one simple strategy for eating wisely, is to try as much as possible, to avoid foods with nutrition labels. Because these are packaged, and more heavily processed, than fresh foods.
Having said that, since the majority of us eat at least some packaged food items, it’s good and important to know what to look for, especially if you’re comparing two packaged items and trying to make an informed decision.
How to Read a Nutrition Label
Nutrition labels are usually divided in couple of sections.
Sections to pay attention to are:
- Number of servings,
- total calories,
- dietary fiber,
- total amount of fat and its composition
- sodium and
- vitamins and minerals.
Today, we’ll look into these values and learn how to quickly figure out which products are doable and which we’re best to avoid.
Number of Servings
It’s important to keep in mind that the nutrition label may not reflect the contents of the entire package.
There’s often more than a single serving in one container and this can be confusing and misleading to many people.
I saw a mini loaf of banana bread in a shop the other day and thought hm, not bad.
The sugar, fat and calories in this are pretty reasonable.
Then I saw that there were five servings in that mini loaf. Multiplied by five, the nutrition label didn’t look so healthy anymore.
To get the real nutrition number of the product,
multiply it by the number of servings.
2. Total Calories – per serving.
This probably isn’t the best way to judge whether something is good for you. Some foods like nuts and avocados, for example, are high in calories but also very healthy as long as they’re eaten in reasonable amounts.
But if weight loss is your goal, and you’re comparing two cereals for example, the calories in a packaged food item are something you want to keep an eye on.
3. Dietary Fiber
Dietary fiber is important for maintaining gut health, stabilizing blood glucose levels after eating, and delaying the return of hunger.
So, choosing a cereal that’s higher in fiber is usually a sensible thing to do.
There is convincing evidence that our modern epidemics of obesity and diabetes are at least partly related to the fact that we eat far too much sugar.
To convert the amount of sugar in grams to teaspoons, just divide by four.
You might be alarmed to see that some children cereals contain 5 or more teaspoons of sugar per serving.
5. Total Amount of Fat and The Breakdown of The Fat Content
In general, the fats in processed foods tend to be less healthy than the fats found in plant foods like avocados or nuts.
These are naturally occurring unsaturated fats.
Saturated fats like those found in red meats and butter can be eaten in reasonable amounts.
And trans fats, which are more commonly found in processed foods, these kinds of fats should be avoided entirely.
Moreover, legislation in the U.S. was passed in 2015 ordering food manufacturers to stop using trans fats because of the associated increased risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease.
Choosing foods with less sodium is also a good idea.
Packaged foods often contain much more added salt than the less processed versions of those foods.
7. Vitamins and Minerals
Nutrition labels will also often contain a list of vitamins and minerals found in the food. And this can be misleading.Added vitamins and minerals don’t necessarily mean that the food is healthy. And in fact, some unhealthy foods have added vitamins and minerals because the manufacturers of those foods know that nutrition claims tend to increase sales to the health conscious consumer.
Having knowledge to read nutrition labels and compare packaged food items is important. Remember to always check the number of servings and then adjust “per serving” values to those of full product.
But just as important as reading nutrition labels is to encourage you to eat fewer packaged foods. Try to limit you intake of processed, packaged food and eat plant based foods instead.
Try to eat more fresh foods, that don’t have nutrition labels, such as fresh veggies, fruits and produce in general.
Also, the product with shorter ingredient list is usually less processed and better for you than the product with long ingredient list and never-heard-before ingredients.
I hope you found the information that is useful to you. If you have any questions, want to share your experience or just chat on this topic, write a comment below. I’d love to hear your point of view!
Till next time,