Knowing what’s exactly in your food by learning how to read food labels can help you make a healthy decision. We’ll show you how to quickly find the information you need to make healthy choices.
How to read a nutrition facts label:
1. Start with serving information.
Look at the size of a single serving and the total servings in the package. Multiply the serving given by the number of servings you consumed to get the exact amount of calories.
2. Limit certain nutrients.
Compare labels and choose options with lower amounts of added sugars, sodium, saturated fat and no trans fat.
3. Aim to get enough beneficial nutrients.
Eat foods with nutrients your body needs like calcium, dietary fiber, iron, potassium, and Vitamin D
4. % Daily Value.
The % Daily Value (DV) tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving.
To consume less of a nutrient (such as saturated fat or sodium), choose foods with a lower % DV (5% or less)
To consume more of a nutrient (such as fiber), choose foods with a higher % DV – 20% or more.
Note: Percent daily values are based on a 2,000 daily calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower based on calorie needs.
How to read the list of ingredients
Most times ingredients in packaged foods are listed separately from the Nutrition Facts Label. The ingredient list includes each ingredient by its common name and in descending order by quantity i.e. from highest to lowest amount.
Make sure you scan the first three ingredients as they form the largest part of what you’re eating. If the first three ingredients include a type of sugar, refined grains, or trans fats like hydrogenated oils, you can assume that the product is unhealthy.
Health claims on packaged food are intended to get your attention and trick you into believing that the product is healthy.
Here are some of the most common claims and what they actually mean:
Light: Light products usually mean they are processed to reduce either calories or fat. Some ‘light’ products are just watered down. Check if anything has been added instead — like sugar.
Multigrain: Although this sounds super healthy but in truth it only means that a product has more than one type of grain. These are usually just refined grains — unless the product is marked as whole grain.
Made with whole grains: The product may include very little whole grains. Check the ingredients list — if whole grains aren’t in the first three ingredients, the amount is negligible.
Gluten-free: Gluten-free doesn’t mean healthy. The product simply doesn’t contain barley, wheat, spelt, or rye. Many gluten-free foods are highly processed and loaded with unhealthy fats and sugar.
Natural: This in no way means that the product is natural. It only means that at one point the product maker worked with a natural source like mangoes.
Organic: This label tells very little about whether a product is actually healthy. For instance, organic sugar is still sugar.
No added sugar: Some products are just naturally high in sugar. Just because they don’t have added sugar doesn’t mean they’re healthy. It could also include unhealthy sugar substitutes.
Low-fat: This label typically means that the fat has been reduced and more sugar has been added instead. Check the ingredient list carefully.
Zero trans fat: This phrase means “less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving.” Check if serving sizes are misleadingly small, if yes, the product may still contain trans fat.
Different Types of Sweeteners
Don’t consume a lot of sugar by mistake, watch out for the quantity of sugar in the ingredient list. Sugar may be present in the ingredient list as:
- Types of sugar: beet sugar, brown sugar, buttered sugar, cane sugar, caster sugar, coconut sugar, confectioner’s sugar, date sugar, evaporated cane juice, golden sugar, invert sugar, muscovado sugar, organic raw sugar, and raspadura sugar.
- Types of syrup: agave nectar, carob syrup, golden syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, honey malt syrup, maple syrup, oat syrup, rice bran syrup, and rice syrup.
- Other added sugars: barley malt, cane juice crystals, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose, disaccharides, dextran, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, glucose, lactose, malt powder, maltodextrin, maltose and molasses.
The Bottom Line
Remember, whole foods don’t require an ingredient list. The best way to avoid being misled by product labels is to avoid packaged and processed foods altogether.
Still, if you choose to buy packaged foods, be sure to sort out the junk from the higher-quality products using these helpful tips. The Nutrition Facts label is key to making the best food choices.
If you’re feeling confused about how much of these nutrients you should be eating, what food choices to make, foods to avoid and so on, talk to our health experts at DrNewMed to get a complete nutrition plan based on your bodily needs. If you’re suffering from a chronic illness, join the Un-Chronic Yourself, chronic care management program and be on your way to health and wellness.
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