Tips for Reading a Food Label
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In a perfect world, all foods would be considered nutritious and healthy, but because many foods are now packaged, it’s important to understand food labels and interpret what the nutrition facts really mean. For example, a few artificial flavors and colors have been linked with hyperactivity, while excess sodium and sugar is proven to lead to health complications and weight gain. Understanding the relationship between foods you are consuming and how they effect your body is the best way to prevent various conditions and diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. Below are some useful tips the team at Food-Stamps.org has put together to help consumers determine the best healthy foods to buy when grocery shopping and what labels to avoid.
Check the nutrition facts panel: The nutrition facts panel is located on the back of food products and is used to help purchasers understand how many calories and nutrients are in every single serving of a product. The problem is, consumers usually eat much larger portions than what the serving size on the label indicates. The serving information located at the top of the label tells consumers the total number of servings per container. Packages almost always contain more than one serving, which means that consumers must multiply all the amounts listed to accurately understand how many calories or how much sugar is in a single container. Packaged foods can easily be packed with large amounts of sugar or sodium. The team at Food-Stamps.org recommends staying away from products that feature over 20 grams of fat and/or over 10 grams of sugar. For sodium, any food with a label that lists an amount over 480 milligrams should be avoided.
Avoid products that contain enemy fats: When grocery shopping consumers should seek foods that contain zero trans fats. Trans fat lowers HDL (‘good’ cholesterol), raises LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and slows your metabolism. If a product contains less than 1 gram of trans fat per serving, the product can be listed as having zero trans fats. Those trace amounts can shockingly add up with time, especially if multiple servings are consumed per day. The team at Food-Stamps.org determined that the best action for consumers to take to avoid products that contain enemy fats is to abstain from foods that contain any partially or fully hydrogenated oils. Hydrogenated oils are composed of large quantities of trans fats and other altered fat substances. Hydrogenated oils are commonly found in commercial baked goods and were specifically designed to increase the shelf life of products.
Products labeled ‘light’ or ‘lite’ aren’t always the best option: ‘Light’ foods and beverages represent a sector of major growth in the American food industry. Many companies are aware of this new ‘light’ trend taking consumers by storm, and they’ve been quick to act on it. It’s important to know that sometimes a product with the label ‘light’ or ‘lite’ is only light in name. The group at Food-Stamps.org found that there are no federal labeling regulations which prevent companies from using labels like ‘light’ and ‘lite’ when their products may only be a few calories less than the regular version. However, when products are labeled ‘low calorie’ and ‘reduced calorie’ the Food and Drug Association does require companies to follow set rules. For a product to be considered ‘reduced calorie,’ it must contain a third fewer calories than any comparable product. ‘Low calorie’ products are required to be no more than 40 calories per serving.
Quite often, ‘light’ products may have the same number of calories as the regular version of the product. The only real change is reduced salt. The reason these ‘light’ products vary so much on their nutritional labels is because ‘light’ and ‘lite’ are still loosely defined and relatively new. ‘Light’ products can be a useful way to cut down on some calories here and there, but most nutritionists do not believe these products function as weight-reduction aids. When grocery shopping, the team at Food-Stamps.org urges consumers to not rely on ‘light’ labels because of how much they vary. Consumers should read the nutritional information on a product and compare it with the regular version to assess if the ‘light’ product is truly a better option or not.
Check the ingredient list: When checking a product’s ingredient list, shorter is always better. A consumer being able to recognize the ingredients he or she is reading is a good indicator as to whether the product is healthy or not. Consumers should look out for words ending in ‘-ose,’ which means the substance is a sugar. Also, it’s worth noting that ingredients are always listed in order of descending volume, meaning the first few ingredients are what the product is mainly made up of. Flour products are commonly promised as being whole grain, but unless the ingredient is listed as ‘100 percent whole wheat flour,’ it’s simply not true.