How to read food labels correctly
How many of us actually know exactly what we are putting into our bodies. Here is an easy to understand way of how to check your food labels correctly.
Look at Serving Size
Start by looking at the nutrition facts and the serving size. Packages frequently contain more than a single serving, which means that you may have to multiply all of the amounts listed to get an accurate picture of how many calories or how much sugar is in a single container.
Check Calorie Count
Although calories are only part of the picture when it comes to reading labels, they’re vital to help you determine appropriate portion size. The standard daily caloric intake guidelines are 1,800-2,200 calories for adult women and 2,200-2,500 for adult men. (These calculations vary according to physical activity.) So, if you choose a food with 700 calories per serving, keep in mind that is approximately one-third of your daily calorie intake.
Avoid Enemy Fats
Limit the amounts of saturated fat and sodium you eat, and avoid trans fat. Choose foods with less of these nutrients when possible. This portion of the label is devoted to fats, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates (including dietary fiber and sugars) and protein. You’ll notice that the amounts are listed in both grams and percentage of daily value. Most of these items should be kept to a minimum, however, higher dietary, fiber and monounsaturated fats are good, as is protein in most cases.
Choose Carbs Wisely and Avoid Added Sugars
Carbohydrates (“carbs”) are often demonized in the media, but in truth, they’re abundant in whole foods and are a very important source of energy. The key thing to keep in mind is that complex carbohydrates (i.e., the carbohydrates in natural, fibrous foods like fruits & vegetables) are infinitely better for you than simple carbohydrates like refined sugar. The presence of fiber in complex carbs causes your body to break down the food more slowly, thus preventing sudden spikes in blood sugar. This is why you’ve likely heard that eating a piece of fruit is a healthier option than simply drinking fruit juice–the whole piece of fruit contains fiber, while the juice has been processed and stripped of fiber.When you look at a food label, you’ll notice that there’s no recommended daily amount for sugar; the amount of sugar in the food is simply listed in grams. But most of us can’t really visualize a gram of sugar. To get a better picture, try converting grams to teaspoons by dividing by 4. For example, 20 grams of sugar is the equivalent of 5 teaspoons of sugar. As you read labels, you may realize that your daily sugar intake includes a lot more than what you add to your coffee! Choose complex carbohydrates, and by keeping added sugars to a minimum!
Get Your Fiber On
The American Dietetic Association recommends 25 g of dietary fiber for adult women and 38 g for adult men per day. Fiber is a crucial component of any food because it helps prevent big swings in blood sugar, keep your colon healthy, and best of all, it makes you feel full – so you eat less!
Be Aware of “Hidden” Sugars
Sugar can masquerade under many different names. Be on the lookout for dextrose, fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, levulose, maltose, sucrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, beet sugar, corn sugar, corn sweetener, high fructose corn syrup, invert sugar, isomalt, maltodextrins, maple sugar, sorghum or turbinado sugar. You might even find more than one listed. These are all just variations on high-calorie, low-nutrient, added sugar.
Sugar alcohols deserve special mention – there are many different types, a few of the most common include: sorbitol, mannitol, and maltitol. A food sweetened with “sugar alcohols” can say “0 grams sugar” on the nutritional label, but if the product is labeled ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no added sugar,’ the manufacturer must list the sugar alcohol count separately. In general sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed by the body, which means they can have less of an impact on your blood sugar. That’s arguably a good thing, but the side effects are often intestinal discomfort, bloating and gas, so our advice is generally to steer clear!