Recent studies indicate that shoppers have a limited attention span when it comes to reading food labels. It’s no wonder – labels can be confusing!

In one study conducted by Nielsen, a leading analytics provider, 6 in 10 consumers said they had difficulty understanding nutrition labels on food packaging. In another study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Research, only 10 percent of participants actually looked at calorie content on food packages!

So, what does this mean? As consumers, we need to understand what we are eating. Here are some tips that you can use the next time you shop:

Don’t be swayed by manufacturer marketing claims. Many food products have marketing claims on the package like “All Natural,” “Organic,” of “Low Fat.” These are placed on products for one reason only – to entice the consumer into purchasing them! Remember, it is not the job of manufacturers to look out for your health. It is their job to sell products, and if they can gain an advantage by labeling their product as “Low Salt” or “Part of a Healthy Breakfast,” then they will.

Be aware of serving size. Manufacturers are required to put a Nutrition Facts panel on most packaged food products. This panel, usually located on the side or back of the package, lists all the nutritional values for a “typical” serving. The number of servings per package is shown at the top of the Nutrition Facts panel.

Pay attention to the servings in the package. Most people don’t notice that a canned drink like Arizona Iced Tea actually contains 2 servings per can, or that a package of spaghetti contains 4-6 servings in each box. You have to adjust the nutrition and calorie information based on the amount you actually eat.

Focus on reducing fat and sodium. The amounts of fat and sodium in a single serving are shown in the Nutrition Facts panel. The American Heart Association recommends that your diet consist of between 20 and 30 percent total fat, and no more. They also recommend that you keep sodium intake below 1,500 mg per day. If you keep your fat and sodium intake with recommended limits, you are less likely to suffer from chronic illnesses like heart disease.

Focus on increasing fiber. Most Americans don’t get enough fiber. It’s no wonder, since many processed foods have most of the fiber removed in the processing. Fiber helps your body digest and process the foods you eat. Dietary fiber is shown on the Nutrition Facts panel. One added benefit is that foods that are high in fiber tend to be more filling too. This means you consume fewer calories in most cases.

And, here’s a “bonus” 6th tip:

Understand ingredients. Ingredients are listed beginning with the largest ones first and the smallest ones last. So, if the first ingredient listed on a product label is “Sugar,” then you know that product contains more sugar than anything other ingredient. The number of ingredients is important too. Try to purchase foods with a smaller number of ingredients. Less ingredients usually means less processing.

The bottom line is this: You are responsible for what you eat. Knowing how to read the Nutrition Facts and Ingredient panels on packaged food is essential.

We devote an entire chapter of our eBook, The P.O.W.E.R. of Healthy Eating, to reading and understanding food labels. Get your copy today.

Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
You might also want to read: Teach Kids to Read Food Labels, Is a Better Food Label in Your Future?, What Are You Eating?

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