We have said it many times before in this column, but it bears repeating: In order to eat healthy, you have to know what you’re eating, and that means learning to read the label. It’s not that hard – really!
There is a wealth of information on the labels of packaged foods, and here’s the first tip: It’s not on the front of the package! Instead, learn to read the Nutrition Facts panel and the Ingredients list. This is where the really important information is located.
At first, these may seem intimidating, but with a few simple guidelines, you can be a label expert.
Here are the top 5 things you should look for when reading the label on packaged foods:
Serving size (blue in figure). This is where a lot of people run into trouble. Did you know that a “recommended serving” of Oreos is just 3 cookies? Or that a package of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese actually contains 2 servings? Understanding the recommended serving size is crucial, because the rest of the Nutrition Facts panel is based on a single serving. So, if you intend on eating 6 Oreos instead of the recommended 3, then you’ll have to double all the numbers including calories.
Total calories (red in figure). This is the number of calories in one serving. If you eat more (or less) than one serving, then you’ll have to adjust this number. Also, make sure you’re looking at the total calories “as prepared.” For example, with macaroni and cheese, the number of calories as prepared will include the milk and butter that you add to the box contents when preparing the food.
Things you want less of (yellow in figure). Fat, cholesterol and sodium should all be limited. These are shown first on the Nutrition Facts list. To limit fat (and as a result cholesterol in many cases), you can use our FatFinder product. It makes calculating the percentage of fat in foods quick and easy.
Things you want more of (green in figure). Dietary fiber, along with vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, and potassium are all part of a healthy diet. Most people don’t get enough of these either. So, look for products with more of these essential vitamins and nutrients.
First 5 ingredients. The ingredients are listed in order, from most to least by weight. In other words, the product contains more of the 1st item listed than anything else, more of the 2nd item listed than anything except the 1st item, and so on. Look for foods with healthy ingredients listed first. Foods that list sugar or anything you can’t pronounce in the 1st 5 ingredients should be avoided.
These are basic guidelines. For more information on reading food labels, get our eBook, The P.O.W.E.R. of Healthy Eating. In addition to reading labels, it has great information on reducing cholesterol, understanding different types of fat, and much more. Get your copy today!
Remember, healthy choices you make each day can transform your family for generations! What choices will you make today?
You may also want to read: 5 “Healthy” Foods to Avoid, Spend Less and Eat Healthier, Making Sense of It All – Trend or Trap?