The food label tells everything we need to know about foods; but, if we dont’ know how to use it, then it isn’t doing us much good! We all have personal nutrient needs, but a basic understanding of the label helps us narrow our options. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by all of the choices, but once you know what you are looking for, it’s a breeze!
First, don’t worry about claims: “healthy”, “natural”, “low-fat”, “sugar-free”, “heart healthy”, etc. Companies use these to make us believe that their choice is better, which isn’t always the case. You can weed through “truth” and “fluff” using the nutrition facts.
Start with “Serving size”. Know how much you eat, because companies change serving sizes to make products seem “lighter”. If we don’t pay attention, we can be misled. Ignore the “Daily %” line. Percentages are based on standardized Calorie intake, which differ for everyone. Always focus on “grams”, and contact me for personalized recommendations!
Ideally, “Total fat” will be low; but, there are different types of fat and some are better than others. “Saturated fat” should be as low as possible; but, mono or poly “unsaturated” fats can improve cholesterol. If most of the “Total fat” comes from UNsaturated sources, your heart will thank you!
Don’t worry about “Cholesterol”. This is misleading and doesn’t affect cholesterol levels as much as saturated fat. “Sodium” is next. Sodium is salt, and should be kept as low as possible. Look for snacks with less than 150 mg and meals with less than 700 mg (always paying attention to serving size).
Next is “Carbohydrates” and its sub categories: “sugar” and “fiber”. “Carbohydrates” gives the total effect on blood sugar, so ignore “sugar”. “Fiber”, though, definitely tells us if one option is better than another. The more fiber, the better! Personal carbohydrate needs also vary and are most important for those preventing or managing diabetes.
Then comes “Protein”, which keeps us feeling full. Protein needs differ for everyone; but, we should try to incluse at least a little bit of protein with all meals and snacks.
And finally: the ingredient list. If you can pronounce all the items and know what they are, you have (usually) found a more natural product. The higher up on the list, the more of that ingredient there is in the food. Watch out for words that mean “salt” and “sugar”, because they are usually hidden; and, make sure that “whole grain” is the first ingredient on breads and cereals.
Once you get the hang of this, your shopping trips will be much quicker and you will feel confident in the choices that you make! Let me help develop specific recommendations for you and your family to reach personal goals. I will even take you grocery shopping!