Shopping for “healthy food” can be a bit daunting, I know…especially when trying to read food labels. I want to help make that a bit easier by sharing a few tips. Over the years, I have learned, that the more ingredients in an item, usually means the less nutritious it is.
If you think about it, that makes sense considering all our fresh fruits & Veggies…DON’T HAVE A FOOD LABEL!. Crazy right? Or is it really just that simple? Eat fresh fruits, veggies and lean meat? Anyway, that’s a topic for another day…
Here are 5 key things you wish you knew sooner when reading food labels.
1.) The Ingredients
Read the ingredients first, because knowing what is actually IN your food can help you determine if it’s something you’d like to put into your body. Typically, the ingredients are listed from most to least in terms of amount.
Many items have misleading labels. For example, when shopping for 100% whole wheat bread see if the first ingredient contains the word “whole.” Some breads say “wheat” or “Grain,” but are not actually 100% whole.
There are also misleading labels saying the item contains vitamins and minerals, when in reality there are very few and the item actually is not a significant source of those items–but since there are “some” it can be added to the label.
Notice in the label pictured above (a box of cereal) where the vitamins and minerals fall on the ingredient list vs the sugar. It’s further down in the list, which means there is less vitamins & minerals than there is sugar! Also, anything that is genetically engineered–kind-of freaks me out…just sayin’.
- The bigger the list, the more crap in the food.
- Choose less ingredients and better yet, ones that you can pronounce and most likely the choice is much better!
- When an ingredient is 1st or 3rd on the list out of a bazillion ingredients…there is probably a lot of it!
2.) Sugar Content
Take a look at how much sugar is in each serving. If possible, I would try to stay away from all added sugar. Not only is it bad for your teeth, sugar has no nutritional value and is considered “empty calories.” Read more about sugar here.
Watch out for high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) too. It’s basically a fancy word for “Here, have some more sugar that you don’t need.” There are also other names for sugar that we may not recognize listed in the ingredients, such as Sucrose, coconut nectar, barley malt, dextrose, maltose, organic dried cane sugar & maltodextrin.
3.) Serving Size
This was news to me back when I was 19 years-old (I won’t tell you how long ago that was). I seriously did not know (nor did I care with my beautiful sculpted body that hadn’t popped out four children yet) how to read a nutrition label. I probably didn’t even know what it was if I am being completely honest. That nutrition class I took back in college was probably the best class I could have taken, and I think should be offered to our kids at a young age…BUT, that could be a whole other blog post in itself…
So what about serving size? It’s important to know the serving size per container because knowing this, will tell you how many calories there are PER SERVING, how much fat PER SERVING, sugar PER SERVING, etc. Many times, if reading a food label is foreign to you, just looking at “calories” may be all you see. BUT, you have to look at what a serving size is within the item.
Lets take applesauce as an example. Serving size is a 1/2 cup, and there are 11 servings per container–there are 80 calories PER serving.
- 1 Serving=1/2 cup of applesauce= 80 calories and 18 grams of sugar
- 2 Servings=1 cup of applesauce=160 calories, and 36 grams of sugar
- 11 servings=5.5 cups of applesauce (the entire container)=880 calories, and 198 grams of sugar
In short, be sure to look at what the serving size is, and then you can tell how many calories there are PER serving, as well as carbs, sugar, fat etc. PER SERVING. I hope that makes sense.
While applesauce does have quite a bit of sugar, it also has minimal ingredients–so sugar free applesauce would actually be a healthier snack! (You could always add natural sweeteners for extra taste.)
Too much sodium has it’s health hazards; known to raise blood pressure which in turn could result in a heart attack or stroke. According to the FDA, The Daily Value for sodium is less than 2,400 milligrams (mg) per day and
About 75% of dietary sodium comes from eating packaged and restaurant foods, whereas only a small portion (11%) comes from salt added to food when cooking or eating.
- Avoid or reduce the consumption of packaged & canned foods, they are generally higher in sodium
- Choose lower fat food items, they also are generally lower in sodium.
Reading a food label takes practice. Check out your food cupboard and start practicing! You get one body…feed it well!
- Reading a food label takes PRACTICE
- You get ONE body…FEED it well!
For more on how to read and understand a food label check it out on the FDA website here.
Learn something new from this post? Tell me about it in the comments!
Be good, Look good, Feel good!
-mamaletsdoit, In Laymen’s Terms