By Tara Hill Conroy, C.H.H.C.
Have you ever bought something at the grocery store because you thought it was better for you? Like those “light” or “low calorie” sports drinks or yogurts that actually contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener and known neurotoxin that has been linked to migraines and many other health problems? Maybe the label on your beef or chicken stated that it was “natural” so you thought it must be better for you. But did you know that the word “natural” really doesn’t mean much?
One of the best things you can do for your health when food shopping is to learn how to read and decipher food labels. Reading labels helps you to compare foods and find the best choices; to limit fat, sugar and cholesterol in your diet and find foods that are higher in vitamins, fiber and protein.
A food label provides information about the nutritional content and the actual ingredients inside a package of food. The Nutrition Facts are usually listed in a table with numbers and percentages about serving size, calories, and nutrient information based on the %DV (daily value) of an average 2,000 calorie/day diet. The actual product ingredients are listed separately below the Nutrition Facts.
If you eat mostly whole foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables, there may not even be a nutrition label or ingredient list. That is because what you see is what you get. But if you buy packaged foods, you really should take the time to read the labels.
The first item you want to look for in the Nutrition Facts table is the serving size. All of the information provided for the total fat, calories, cholesterol, sodium, sugar, carbohydrates, fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals is based on that serving size. If you double the serving size, then you would need to adjust the nutrition facts accordingly. For example, if the serving size is 1/2 cup of cereal with 15 grams of sugar per serving but you eat a whole cup of cereal, then you need to know that you are eating 30 grams of sugar – and that is not counting the sugar in the milk!
The Ingredient list shows you what is actually in the product. If you are trying to eat healthier, this is also a very important list when determining what to buy.
Here are a few simple tips when reading ingredient labels:
- Ingredients are listed in descending order of weight (from most to least). If you are concerned about your intake of sugars, make sure that added sugars are not listed as one of the first few ingredients.
- Try to buy products with a short list of ingredients. Five or less is ideal. If you are trying to eat more whole foods, yet a product has a list of 25 ingredients– then it probably isn’t a good choice.
- Look for products that state “no artificial flavors, colors, added sugars or preservatives” as well as “no high fructose corn syrup.”
- Be careful of manufacturer’s claims that state “low calorie” or “light” as they often contain artificial sweeteners, which can be worse for you than regular sugar.
The more you learn to read labels, the better you will be at becoming a healthier you!
Article ©2012 Local Wellness written by Tara Hill Conroy
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