Let’s face it, finding healthful foods can be hard. Reading the nutrition label is already complicated enough without buzz words like “gluten free,” “low carb,” “fat free,” and “sugar free.” There has to be an easier way, right? Here are five helpful hints to reading the nutrition label to help you make good choices at the grocery store.
Don’t fall for the claims on the front
Right off the bat, be sure you’re actually reading the nutrition label. Most times, the flashy words on the front of the package don’t tell the whole story. Companies try to pull you in by putting attractive-sounding words on the front. (That’s called marketing). In fact, they want you to judge a box by its cover. Don’t fall for it. Just turn the box over and start reading the nutrition facts.
Figure out which numbers are important to you
Everybody has something different they’re looking for in their version of “healthy” food. For folks with special dietary conditions or medical issues, the nutrition label is an especially essential part of grocery shopping. An good example is for those with diabetes. Diabetes diets are those with controlled carb intake, so if you are diabetic, be sure to check the total carbs in each food. Another example would be for people with high blood pressure. A diet lower in sodium is best for those individuals, so you’d want to check the sodium content.
It’s important to note that not everyone is interested in all of the same numbers on the nutrition label. Figure out which ones are the most important to you, and make sure you’re reading the nutrition label to find those specifics.
Check out the calories
Even though everyone has certain numbers they’re watching, don’t forget about total calories. Sure, more and more health advocates are saying that not all calories are created equal, but knowing how many calories are in something can help you make a more informed decision. If you have two loaves of bread that seem to be pretty much the same, but one has 80 calories per slice and one has 140 calories per slice, which one are you going to choose?
Understand the serving size
Portion control is a huge issue in the U.S. We have been misled by the food industry to think an entire pan of pasta is only one serving. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. If we were more aware of what a true portion size looked like, our eating habits would change drastically. That said, take a few seconds to read the nutrition label and figure out what one serving size is. Then look at the total number of servings in the container. For example, if you’re getting a frozen dinner, beware! Some of these microwavable meals are actually two portions, not one. The more you read, the more you know.
Peruse the list of ingredients
This can be beneficial for a few reasons. First, if you have any dietary restrictions (allergies, vegetarianism, food preferences, etc.), reading the ingredient list is the best place to start. Second, you’ll be able to discern whether or not the marketing gimmicks on the front of the container are misleading. For example, even if it says “sugar free,” it could still have artificial sweeteners in it. Third, you’ll be a more informed consumer. And really, who doesn’t want that?
Reading the nutrition label
Once you get comfortable reading the nutrition label, you’ll be able to start making better decisions for yourself. Just know that a good food decision for you might be different than that of your partner, sister, mother or co-worker. And there’s nothing wrong with that.