If you want to eat healthy food, you need to know what makes a food healthy in the first place, and part of this knowledge is all the information on the side of the box.
Everything you need to know about the food is right there so you can make good food choices. However, many people don’t know how to read a nutrition label.
Let’s change that!
Nutrition Label Breakdown
The serving size is the first thing listed on the label. You should pay particular attention to serving size of the food in question, because all the information below it is based on one serving size.
This is an important distinction. For example, if you see 20 grams of sugar listed further down, that’s 20 grams in one serving, not the entire box. Note that your idea of a serving may be quite larger than what the company that produces that food thinks. Do only five chips make a single serving? Some food companies think so.
Check out calories next. The food’s calories is the amount of energy you get from eating the food.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says an adult woman between the ages of 25 and 50 should get anywhere from 2,200 to 2,800 calories. For adult men of the same age, the FDA suggests 3,000 to 4,000 calories each day, depending on that person’s body and activity level.
If you consume more energy (calories) than your body can expend, you will store the excess (as fat).
Next look at fats. Trans fats and saturated fats are the “bad guys” that can raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol. Check both. A product may boast that it has no trans fats, but does it have saturated fats?
Sodium, which is everyday plain salt, is listed. Try to get no more than 2,300 mg per day. Some snack food are filled with sodium. Look at sugar next, and limit your intake of food that is high in sugar.
Dietary fiber is another important one to check. You should get about 25 to 35 grams of dietary fiber each day. Buy bread and other grains that contain a decent amount of fiber.
The ingredients list can be overwhelming. Whatever is listed first is the number one ingredient in that product. You’ll likely see a lot of words that don’t seem to have any relationship to food. These are usually preservatives. In general, a short list is better than a long one, because that means fewer artificial ingredients have been added.
Once you learn the basics on how to read a nutrition facts label, it quickly becomes second nature to check it before you buy and consume a food.
You also tend to start seeing trends in foods as well as the (somewhat sneaky) things companies will do to try to “hide” the fact their food is unhealthy. A great example of this are the infamous “Zero Sugars” or “Fat Free” labels. Many times a company will use a phrase like “Sugar Free” to hide the fact that the food is loaded with unhealthy fats — or vice versa, labeling a food as “Fat Free” when really it is pure sugar.
Knowing how to read the nutrition label is one way of eating healthier. It is a great tool to add to your toolbox while you work on your health.