- Focus on the ingredients and sugar content.
- Avoid added sugar (anything ending in “-ose” is usually a sugar).
- Less is best (avoid labels if you can).
- Shop the perimeter. Choose fresh/frozen food over processed products.
Food is labeled in order for consumers to make an informed decision about the product they are buying. Over the years, many of us have looked less at the actual ingredients and focused more on the pretty packaging. What exactly is on a food label and what should you look for?
Serving Size. Check out the serving size first to make sure that it’s a reasonable amount to eat in one sitting. If it says 2 cookies and there’s no way you can eat just two, then step away from the package. The serving size is good to keep in mind as you decipher the rest of the label. For example, the food may have 5 grams of sugar, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but the serving size is only 1 tablespoon. Yikes!
Calories. Focus on nutrients before calories. Look at the ingredients first and foremost.
Total Fat, Saturated Fat, Trans Fat. Avoid man-made fats (trans fats and hydrogenated) at all costs. These franken-fats wreak havoc on your body and metabolism.
Cholesterol. Minimal concern if it’s a whole food, such as an egg. Avoid cholesterol from processed products as it’s likely to have oxidized and become rancid.
Sodium. Over 77% of the sodium in a typical diet comes from processed foods. The easiest way to keep your sodium levels healthy is to eat less processed products and more whole foods.
Total Carb. Focus your attention on these numbers. Don’t carboload like a marathon runner if you’re a desk jockey. Match your carb intake to your activity level. Dietary fiber is best from real vegetables and fruits.
Protein. Where is it coming from? A whole food or a processed ingredient?
Vitamin A and C, Calcium and Iron. Get these from whole food sources. Don’t be fooled by the nutrient content on packages. Most of these nutrients are either fortified or enriched. Fortified means the nutrients originally present in food were lost during processing, then added back later. Enriched means these nutrients weren’t there to begin with, but were added later. These kinds of nutrients lack co-nutrients that help with absorption.
% Daily Value. This just means you are meeting the percentage of nutrients recommended by the U.S.D.A. for a 2,000 calorie diet.
Ingredients. Always check the ingredients. Less is best. Whole food sources are better than processed. For example, it’s better to choose a date (first ingredient in a LaraBar) than organic brown rice syrup (first ingredient in a ClifBar).
Example Food Label to Avoid: Fruity Cheerios
Ingredient 1 = Whole Grain Corn
Ingredient 2 = Sugar
Ingredient 3 = Corn Syrup
Ingredient 4 = Corn Starch